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What Is the 'Felony Murder' Rule?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

A murder conviction generally punishes people who kill others either intentionally or through extreme recklessness. But the "felony murder" rule punishes something different.

Unlike other kinds of murder, in felony murder there's no requirement that the suspect intended to cause death, or that his actions were likely to kill another person.

Committing a crime can lead to dangerous situations, and people can get hurt unintentionally. What if someone dies during the commission of a crime? The law doesn't let the perpetrator go unpunished.

Death During the Commission of a Felony

The felony murder rule covers cases in which someone dies during or shortly after the commission of an inherently dangerous crime, generally a felony. The law holds the felon responsible for the death, as well as the felony.

After all, the goal of criminal law is to discourage inappropriate and anti-social behavior. Violence against other people is the ultimate betrayal of the social contract.

As a result, the law tries to curb people's impulses to harm others. But it also wants to stop people from engaging in behavior that is likely to hurt others. There's where the "inherently dangerous" part comes in.

'Inherently Dangerous' Crimes

Certain crimes are more dangerous than others. They involve other people and may include harm to others as a factor.

Crimes like robbery, burglary, rape, and kidnapping put other people at risk because they involve force or violence, or both.

If a felon intends to kill, then the charge is murder. But if a victim is killed during a high-speed chase, for example, then felony murder can potentially apply.

Still, not all states treat felony murder as a separate offense. In some jurisdictions, it now falls under first-degree murder.

Either way, what the state is punishing is the dangerous behavior. For putting other people at risk during the commission of a crime, you could end up in serious trouble.

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