California’s felony-murder rule attaches criminal liability to anyone who kills another human being during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony. The rule was established with the goal of holding people who engage in dangerous behavior accountable for the harm to others. Because of this rule, the government can allege criminal liability for the death of another even if the accused did not intend for anyone to die during the commission of certain conduct.
The purpose of the felony murder rule is to deter people from engaging in dangerous behavior that may lead to loss of life. When the felony murder rule is applied, the court does not distinguish between intentional, accidental, or negligent homicides. If a person dies during the commission of a felony, the felony murder rule applies and the person engaged in committing the felony can be charged with murder.
For the felony murder rule to apply, prosecutors do not need to prove that the killing was in furtherance of the crime being perpetrated at the time. As long as the death can be connected to the felony offense, the requirements of felony murder are satisfied. Even deaths that were unforeseeable at the time may trigger the felony murder rule.
In California a person criminally could be liable for first degree murder if a death occurs during certain types of felonies. These are typically more serious felonies and include: robbery, kidnapping, rape, arson, and a few other less common crimes. If a death results during the commission of one these felonies, the felony murder rule applies, regardless if the killing was intentional or not. The accused could be charged with first degree murder.
Second degree murder charges in felony murder rule cases can be brought if a death occurred during a less serious crime that is still inherently dangerous to human life. In other words the felony murder rule can still be applied if someone dies during a felony which by its nature heightened the risk to human life. To determine if a felony is inherently dangerous, the courts look at the legal definition of the crime, not to the facts of the particular case. However, when the alleged felony can be violated in a number of ways, the court will look at the specific facts associated with the crime the defendant is accused of committing.
A person convicted of murder under the felony murder rule is subject to the same penalties as a person convicted of the first or second degree murder. If someone you know has been accused of murder as a result of an unintended death during the commission of an alleged felony, call our Bay Area criminal defense attorneys today at (415)946-4020 to schedule a consultation.