Felony-Murder Rule

A doctrine under which any death, even unplanned and accidental one, resulting from the commission or attempted commission of a felony is considered murder.

For instance, one who commits arson that results in the death of a firefighter could be charged with murder under the Felony Murder Rule.  Similarly, where two persons commit a robbery and one of them shoots the victim, both could be charged with felony murder under the Rule even if the murder was never part of the plan.

Felony murder could be punishable by death.  In Tison v. Arizona, however, the United States Supreme Court held that the death penalty may not be imposed on a felony murderer who did not himself kill, attempt to kill, or intend that a killing take place, or that lethal force be used during the commission of the underlying felony, unless he was a major participant in that felony and his actions reflected a reckless indifference to human life.  481 U.S. 137 (1987).

Compare Tison v. Arizona with Enmund v. Florida

At common law, one whose conduct brought about an unintended death in the commission or attempted commission of a felony was guilty of murder.  Most jurisdictions have limited the doctrine to one or more of the following:  (1) limited to certain types of felonies; (2) stricter interpretation of the requirement of proximate cause; (3) narrower construction of how long the felony is deemed “in process;” (4) limited to felonies which are independent of the homicide.

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