Written by Canterbury Law Group

What Is Felony Murder

What Is Felony Murder

Felony murder is a term expanding the way murder is defined. Applied when an individual commits a type of felony and someone else dies during the course of the crime. Whether accidental or intentional, the defendant is liable for the death. Often it applies to felonies that are a danger to human life, like rape, robbery, burglary and arson. Read on to learn more.

Felony murder requires the intent to commit the underlying felony and that an individual died from the acts of the felony. if more than one person is involved in the felony, all take responsibility, including accessories.

Broad Reach

The terms of felony murder differ by state but are generally very broad by definition. it applies when:

  • A bystander for law enforcement are the cause of death
  • The death occurs during an escape attempt or the person who dies is an accomplice
  • As intent is not an element at play, self-defense may not be permissible when dealing with cases of felony murder

These rules have frequently been criticized as punitive to those who did not take a life. for example, the driver of a getaway car where another occupant committed the murder.

Capital Punishment

The original position of the US Supreme Court was the Eight Amendment expressly prohibits capital punishment, if the defendant did not kill, or attempt to kill, and was only a minor league player but was available should there defendant have been a major participant in the crime and acted with: “reckless indifference to human life.” (Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137 (1987).) Not all states subscribe to this viewpoint and it may not be worthy of the death penalty: (See, for example, Vernon Kills On Top v. State, 279 Mont. 384 (1996).)

Federal Law

Federal law sees felony murder as first degree murder and lists felonies forming the basis for prosecution:

  • arson
  • burglary
  • child abuse
  • escape
  • espionage
  • kidnapping
  • murder
  • sabotage
  • sexual abuse
  • treason

State Law

Some states no longer have felony murder on their books. Some states consider it to be first degree murder, in others it is second degree murder. There are many factors determining how states apply felony murder rules.

Predicate Felonies

States can make a determination what qualifies as predicate felonies. Many states say even attempts can bring the felony murder rule into play. Some states say all the facts surrounding the crime are relevant, while others look at the felony, without considering the outstanding surrounding facts.

Time Of Death

Some states limit felony murder when death occurs as part of the underlying felony.


Every state has individual rules they apply to accomplices. Most states use an “agency” approach whereby felony murder will only apply when the defendant or their “agent” has responsibility for the death. Some states adopt a “proximate cause” approach, whereby, felony murder can be applied when any death occurs from the felony, regardless of who caused it.


Every estate says the underlying felony be the “but for” cause of death. For example, someone may die as a result of a robbery but some states also require the felony to be the immediate and primary cause of death.

Source: https://www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/resources/felony-murder.htm

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