Felony murder is a legal doctrine in 46 states that allows a person to be sentenced to murder for participating in a felony during which a murder takes place, regardless of whether they participated in the murder or had any intent to do so. This violates the basic principles of individual criminal culpability as it holds a person liable for the unforeseen and unagreed-to results of another person’s actions.
Tragically, at least 80 people have been sentenced to death in the last 30 years for felony murder. Additionally, the application of this rule often leads to sentences of life without parole for people who had no involvement with the crime for which they were committed. These sentences are fundamentally unequitable since many people who physically commit murder receive other charges (like second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter) and do not receive life sentences or the death penalty.
In addition to being cruel and unusual punishment, the felony murder rule also violates the Constitutional guarantee of due process because no defense is allowed on the charge of first-degree murder, only the underlying felony.
Though this law is intended to be a deterrant to felonies, there is no evidence indicating that it functions as such, while there is plentiful evidence that innocent lives have been destroyed in its application.
The law originally came from British common law, but has been overturned in most other countries who based their laws on that model including England, India, and Canada. It has also already been abolished in Michigan, Kentucky, Hawaii, and Ohio. In 1980, the Michigan Supreme Court wrote: “The felony-murder rule completely ignores the concept of determination of guilt on the basis of individual misconduct.”
Let’s work together to abolish Felony Murder in Pennsylvania!
To learn about some applications of this law: