What is Felony Murder in the USA?
Felony murder is a specific rule which permits any defendant to be slapped with first-degree murder charges for any killing that happened in the course of a dangerous felony. This is applicable even if the defendant concerned did not kill the victim. This felony murder charge can be applied only to particular crimes which are labeled as "inherently dangerous."
The rationale underpinning this rule is that certain crimes are extremely dangerous and society wants to make sure that individuals who want to do them should think multiple times before they start. When an individual includes himself in a dangerous crime, the person could be held responsible for any fatal consequence arising from that crime. This will be applicable if the actual killing is caused by someone else.
This rule of felony murder is regarded as a kind of exception to normal homicide rules. A defendant, in the normal course of things, could be convicted on murder charges only if the prosecutor can show that the defendant acted with reckless indifference towards human life or intent to kill. The rule of felony murder, however, states that the defendant could be convicted on murder charges even if that defendant did not do the deed with reckless indifference or intent. The prosecution would simply have to show that the particular defendant was a participant in a specific felony where the fatalities happened.
Inherently dangerous crimes
The list of inherently dangerous crimes vary for every state but generally includes burglary, kidnapping, robbery, arson, and rape. As per the merger doctrine, if elements of an underlying felony are part of murder elements, then the rule of felony murder cannot be applied. To give an example, a particular defendant who took part in an assault that resulted in someone getting killed cannot be charged with the crime of felony murder as the assault elements also get included in murder elements. It follows the assault than "merges" to murder. This is thus not a distinct crime which may constitute an underlying felony.
The felony murder could arise in some circumstances. Many such circumstances could appear to be surprising. To give an example, if a particular defendant and partner try to rob a supermarket and the partner fires any warning shot to scare the cash point employee, but the bullet mistakenly hits a customer then both defendant and partner could be placed under a murder charge. This can be applied even if the defendant in question had no gun in hand or with him at the time of the incident.
In a similar instance, if a person sets on fire to a cycle shed but the fire also consumes the adjacent house, killing its occupants, the person who set the fore could be slapped with murder charges even if it was not his intention to harm anyone. The presence of these complexities means it is vital to remember that getting involved in any dangerous crime could result in fatalities which may cascade to murder charges. These charges could be imposed on everyone involved in the operation.
Felony Murder Punishments
Every state in the US has a felony murder rule. Federal law recognizes felony murder too. The felony murder in a majority of states gets categorized as first-degree murder. It can result in several years' imprisonment to life. Most states recognize felony murder as a capital offense, meaning the death penalty can be applied. The Supreme Court of the United States, however, has imposed some extra restrictions on those states which want to impose the death penalty for felony murder. It has been decided that the death penalty cannot be given to individuals who played a minor role in the murder.
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