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Can You Be Charged With Homicide If You Didn't Kill Anyone?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on December 17, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Darius Jacob Taylor wasn't even in the same state when Wesley Burnett was shot and killed. And yet Pennsylvania prosecutors charged Taylor with criminal homicide.

Under the felony murder rule, anyone who participates in a dangerous felony can be charged with homicide if the crime results in a killing. Burglars have even been given life sentences after victims died trying to flee the scene of the crime. But some are arguing that the felony murder rule is being stretched too far, and that the rule itself may not serve its intended purpose.

Marijuana Crimes and Murder Charges

According to police, Taylor helped Burnett and Issayah Fostion coordinate a marijuana buy, with the intent to rob the sellers. But when Burnett pulled his gun, his would-be victims shot him instead. The Appeal reports that Fostion called Taylor for advice, and Taylor told him to take Burnett to the hospital. Fostion, afraid he would get in trouble, dumped Burnett along the side of the road instead.

While police initially charged Fostion and the men involved in the pot buy in Burnett's death, they amended those charges to include Taylor as well, who, as we noted earlier, wasn't even in the state. Pennsylvania's murder statutes provides that "[c]riminal homicide constitutes murder of the second degree when it is committed while defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony." And "Perpetration of a Felony" is defined as:

The act of the defendant in engaging in or being an accomplice in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing, or attempting to commit robbery, rape, or deviate sexual intercourse by force or threat of force, arson, burglary or kidnapping.

Rules and Reality

While the thinking behind the felony murder rule is that it is a means to deter people from committing serious crimes (for fear of potentially facing murder charges) recent research undermines that theory. In 2016, University of Chicago law professor Anup Malani reviewed nationwide FBI Universal Crime Report data between 1970 and 1998 and found no evidence that the felony murder rule had a deterrent effect on crime or reduced the number of deaths resulting from felonies. "Policymakers should draw one conclusion from this paper," Malani wrote, "the felony-murder rule does not substantially improve crime rates."

Still, state prosecutors continue to use the doctrine to charge people with homicide, even though they didn't kill anyone. If you're facing criminal charges of any kind, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.

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