Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is
A: It is a nonpartisan grassroots movement of concerned citizens who seek to repeal or amend the felony murder rule in North Carolina. For more information see About NCCFMRC.
Q: What is the felony murder rule?
A: The felony murder rule (FMR) is based on 16th Century English common law and was adopted in the US in the early 1800s. It states that any death which occurs during the commission or attempt to commit certain felonies, which include arson, rape or other sexual offenses, burglary, robbery or kidnapping, is first-degree murder and all participants in the felony can be held equally culpable, including those who did no harm, had no weapon, and did not intend to hurt anyone. Intent does not have to be proved for anything but the underlying felony. Even if, during the commission of the underlying felony, death occurs from fright—a heart attack for instance, it is still first-degree murder.
In North Carolina there are only two penalties possible if found guilty: life in prison without parole or death. See The Law for the exact wording of North Carolina's Felony Murder Rule.
Q: Are there any other options for sentencing?
A: No. If a defendant is found guilty of felony murder in North Carolina, he or she can only receive life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. This is a major point NCCFMRC seeks to change.
Q: What is NCCFMRC's main beef?
A: Simply stated, it's the inequity in felony murder sentencing. If a person gets into a fight and breaks a bottle over someone else's head resulting in the other person's death, the incident will usually be prosecuted as second-degree murder. The defendant knew that his actions would inflict serious bodily harm and perhaps even death, yet he intentionally committed the crime anyway. In North Carolina, second-degree murder is punishable by a minimum of seven years in prison; the average penalty seems to be about 18 to 20 years.
Contrast this intentional crime with Joe, who is with a group of three other people, one of whom, Ted, pulls a knife and kills a storekeeper then cleans out the cash register. Ted and the rest of the group, including Joe, could all be charged with felony murder, even though Joe nor his two other friends did not facilitate the robbery in any way and had no prior knowledge that Ted had a weapon or that he was planning a robbery. Joe was just there—at the wrong place at the wrong time and, as it turned out, with the wrong group of friends. If convicted on the felony murder charge, every member of the group could be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, or perhaps even death.
We feel this inequity must be addressed—contrasting one person who intends to commit an act which may result in someone's death and gets a sentence of, say, eight years—and someone like Joe, who didn't harm anyone, yet will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
This kind of example is not a large percentage of felony murder cases, but even when an accomplice or getaway driver know that a robbery or some other felony is planned, they may not understand that someone could be killed. If a storekeeper pulls a gun from under the counter and kills one of the robbers, that's felony murder, too, but storekeeper will not necessarily be charged with anything. On the other hand, the group of robbers could all be charged with felony murder. For the felony murder rule to apply, someone has to die as the result of an underlying felony. It doesn't matter which side the deceased person or persons are on—bandits or good guys; if anyone dies as a direct consequence of a felonious crime, that's felony murder.
Q: Are there other reasons the felony murder rule wrong?
A: See What's Wrong with the Felony Murder Rule.
Q: Why should I care?
A: The felony murder rule reflects a greater problem with the American judicial system: sentences do not always fit the crimes. We already have laws in place that cover first-degree murder through manslaughter. The felony murder rule bypasses these gradations of law by treating all deaths that occur in conjunction with certain felonies as first-degree murder. It does not take into consideration intent or prior record in passing sentence. NCCFMRC believes that this law is vindictive and gives prosecutors an unfair advantage.
Felony murder can be used against anyone, at the prosecutors' discretion if involved in a felonious crime where someone died. Remember also that anyone present during the commission of the felony can be tried and prosecuted as if they had committed first degree murder, as in the case of Brandon Hein or Lisl Auman.
If we as citizens do not speak out against the felony murder rule, then we silently approve of it. If people continue to receive sentences they do not deserve, we are all responsible.
Q: Who is Janet Danahey?
A: Janet was 23 years old when she set fire to an old box of decorations and a futon that were on a breezeway at Greensboro's Campus Walk Apartments. It was a prank that went horribly out of control and resulted in the deaths of four people. No one argues that Janet meant to hurt anyone, yet she is now serving life in prison with out the possibility of parole. See our page dedicated to Janet and her case.
Q: Didn't Janet Danahey get what she deserved?
A: It depends on who you ask. NCCFMRC contends that she never should have been charged with first-degree murder since no one, including the prosecutor and the judge, claim she intended to kill anyone. She had no prior record, which seriously calls into question why she was prosecuted under North Carolina's harshest murder law.
Had she been charged and convicted of arson plus manslaughter, she would not be serving a life sentence without parole, nor would she have faced the death penalty but still could have been sentenced to between about 20 and 60+ years. It is interesting to note that the psychopathic killer Charles Manson comes up for parole every seven years.
Q: Are there any other cases of felony murder in which people have received unjust sentences?
A: Yes. NCCFMRC researches cases in which we feel the felony murder rule has been used unjustly. See Other Cases we have found.
Q: What can I do to help change the North Carolina felony murder rule?
A: Concerned citizens can help in a variety of ways: write letters and e-mails, make phone calls, and/or visit state legislators. See How You Can Help for more information.
For additional information on the felony murder rule, search Google for "felony murder in NC" as well as the general topic "felony murder"