What's Wrong With
The Felony Murder Rule?

Preface/Definitions
(criteria for all vary from state to state)


A - First-Degree Murder - A premeditated (planned) killing accompanied by the intent to kill, malice aforethought (planning to kill a particular victim or anyone who might try to prevent such a killing).

B - Second-Degree Murder - A non-premeditated killing resulting from an assault in which death is probable or highly likely.

C - Voluntary Manslaughter - Killing in the heat of passion or while committing a felony.

D - Involuntary Manslaughter - Death which occurs accidentally or in violation of a non-felony, such as reckless driving.

E - Homicide - The killing of a human being due to the act or omission of another. Murder and manslaughter are included among homicides, but not all homicides are a crime, particularly when there is a lack of criminal intent. Non-criminal homicides include killing in self-defense, accidents, such as a hunting accident, or a traffic accident where there is no violation of the law, such as reckless driving. Intent is the criterion, which elevates a homicide, which may be innocent or criminal, to murder.

F - Felony Murder Rule - 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.

What's Wrong With
The Felony Murder Rule - Common Sense:


1 - 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.

2 - 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.

3 - 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.

4 - 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.

5 - 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.

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

7 - 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.

8 - 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.

9 - While the felony murder rule survives in North Carolina 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.

10 - 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.

11 - 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.

12 - (a) 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 committed.
(b) 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.

13 - 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.

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

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