Help End the Felony Murder Rule

By BitcoDavid

A Follower on FaceBook brought this petition to our attention.

They bring up the following points:

The felony murder rule operates as a matter of law upon proof of the intent to commit a felony to relieve the prosecution of its burden of proving intent to kill, which is a necessary element of murder.

The intention to commit a felony does not equal the intention to kill, nor is the intention to commit a felony, by itself, sufficient to establish a charge of murder.

The felony murder rule erodes the relation between criminal liability and moral culpability in that it punishes all homicides in the commission, or attempted commission, of the proscribed felonies, whether intentional, unintentional, or accidental, without proving the relation between the homicide and the perpetrator’s state of mind.

Under the felony murder rule, the defendant’s state of mind is irrelevant. Because intent is a characterization of a particular state of mind with respect to a killing, felony murder bears little resemblance to the offense of murder except in name. First-degree murder is an arbitrary assignment.

Holding one or many criminally liable for the bad results of an act which differs greatly from the intended results is based on a concept of culpability which is totally at odds with the general principles of jurisprudence.

It is fundamentally unfair and in violation of basic principles of individual criminal culpability to hold one felon liable for the unforeseen and un-agreed to results of another felon’s action.

The basic rule of culpability is further violated when felony murder is categorized as first-degree murder because all other first-degree murders (carrying equal punishment) require a showing of premeditation, deliberation and willfulness, while felony murder only requires a showing of intent to do the underlying felony.

The purpose of creating degrees of murder is to punish with increased severity the more culpable forms of murder, but an accidental killing during the commission or attempted commission of a felony is punished more severely than a second-degree murder.

While the felony murder rule survives in Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana, California and other states, the numerous modifications and restrictions of it by some states’ courts and legislatures throughout the United States reflect dissatisfaction with the basic harshness and injustice of the doctrine and call into question its continued existence.

The felony murder rule can be used by prosecutors in a manner so as to cause grossly disproportionate sentencing, depending on the circumstances of each individual case.

The felony murder rule is probably unconstitutional because presumption of innocence is thrown to the winds. The prosecution needs only to prove intent to commit the underlying felony; that
done, first degree-murder becomes part and parcel of the underlying felony because intent to commit murder does not have to be proved.

The felony murder rule is probably unconstitutional because in some cases it violates the Eighth Amendment: cruel and unusual punishment, grossly disproportionate to the crime(s) actually

The felony murder rule holds unequally involved parties equally accountable and punishable. Again, cruel and unusual punishment if you’re only the lookout for a robber who happens to kill in the process of the robbery.

they deserved it
they deserved it (Photo credit: Will Lion)

The felony murder rule violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process because no defense is allowed on the charge of first-degree murder, only the underlying felony.

The felony murder rule bears no rational relationship or equity in its two penalties, with the penalties of other murder laws, including, at times, the charge of first-degree murder.

It is no longer acceptable to equate the intent to commit a felony with the intent to kill.

Believe it or not, the American Justice System was created to keep people out of prison. The concept of innocent until proven guilty, The right to protection against self incrimination, and The 8th Amendment – all speak to the American concept of fair play, the dread of incarceration and our aversion to cruel and unusual punishment.

What could possibly be crueler than to Imprison a teenager for life – for merely being present at the scene of a crime. Maybe he was driving the car. Maybe he was the lookout. Should he be punished? Yes, of course. But can we, in good conscience, allow one stupid moment – one adolescent lapse of judgement – to cost him his entire life?

Please consider signing this petition at:

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.


7 thoughts on “Help End the Felony Murder Rule

  1. I’m glad you blogged on this, and I disagree with the argument made. The felony murder rule applies to only inherently dangerous felonies.

    Let’s consider felony arson. Now we all know, or should know, that if you set a structure on fire deliberately that someone could die. It could be some poor sap working there or a firefighter or a police officer who responds. The intent was to set the fire – an inherently dangerous felony and therefore there is a risk of death.

    No, it isn’t applied in all states. Yes, kids may not understand fully what implication their actions have. However, can we say that anyone of normal adult intelligence who deliberately sets fire to a building has no idea that there could be a death as a result of it?

    The felonies that this rule applies to are generally arson, burglary, robbery, rape, and felonious escape. I believe the feds include kidnapping, carjacking and terrorism. So we are not talking about felony check cashing fraud or felonies like those committed by Bernie Madoff being coupled with death for a murder charge.

    While I respect the argument made, I just don’t agree with it – which is why if you have two lawyers you have at least four to five arguments.


  2. As always, Marsha, you make valid and cogent points. However, I have read of cases where an individual who “went along for the ride,” got a stiffer sentence than the actual shooter, because of the Felony Murder Rule. Like all well intentioned laws, it can be misused. Even Judges have said that they disagreed with their own sentences – feeling that they were forced into unduly harsh punishments – because of this rule.


  3. Slippery slope, David, slippery slope. Then all laws can be misused and they’re all suspect. We are a nation of laws. We can change laws – and that’s fine to lobby for change. Laws change all the time. All sorts of judges disagree with laws, but at the lower level they are not there to make law, merely to enforce it. We leave it to higher courts to start deciding constitutionality.


  4. Agree my son was charged with.felony murder I Arizona when he was 17 he never even had a gun please read his story at justice for Robert Pryor end the felony murder law on facebook


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