Felony Murder

The rule of Felony murder is a legal doctrine in some common law jurisdiction that broadens the crime of murder; when an offender kills in the commission of a dangerous or enumerated crime (called a felony in some jurisdiction), the offender, and also the offender’s accomplices or co-conspirators, may be found guilty of murder.

The concept of felony murder originates in the rule of transferred intent, which is older than the limit of legal memory. In its original form, the malicious intent inherent in the commission of any crime, however trivial, was considered to apply to any consequences of that crime, however unintended.

In most jurisdictions, to qualify as an underlying offence for a felony murder charge, the underlying offence must present a foreseeable danger to life, and the link between the offence and the death must not be too remote. For example, if the recipient of a forged check has a fatal allergic reaction to the ink, most courts will not hold the forger guilty of murder, as the cause of death is too remote from the criminal act.

There are two schools of thought concerning whose action can cause the defendant to be guilty of felony murder. Jurisdictions that hold to the agency theory admit only deaths caused by the agents of the crime. Jurisdictions that use the proximate cause theory include any death, even if caused by a bystander or the police, provided that it meets one of several proximate cause tests to determine if the chain of events between the offence and the death was short enough to have legally caused the death. The merger doctrine excludes from the offences that qualify as underlying offences any felony that is presupposed by a murder charge. For example, nearly all murders involve some assault, but so do many cases of manslaughter. To count any death that occurred during an assault as felony murder would obliterate a distinction that is carefully set by the legislature. However, the merger may not apply when an assault against one person results in the death of a different person.

Felony murder is typically the same grade of murder as premeditated murder and carries the same sentence as is used for premeditated murder in the jurisdiction in question.