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In California, as in most states, to be charged with homicide means that the prosecutor has evidence that the defendant “unlawfully killed another human being or fetus with malice aforethought.” Accordingly, this means that the defendant must have been directly involved with the unlawful end of another person’s life; that is, he/she effectively “pulled the trigger.”

However, California, like the vast majority of states, also allows a defendant to be charged with homicide if the defendant, or a fellow perpetrator, kills another human being while committing certain felonies, regardless of whether the killing was intentional. This is known as the Felony-Murder Rule, and retaining the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney can be crucial to those who have been charged with the Rule’s violation.

In February, Berkeley Senator Nancy Skinner introduced a bill in the Legislature that would reform California’s, Felony-Murder Rule. A discussion on the current felony-murder rule, and the proposed reform, will follow below.

What is the Felony Murder Rule in California

Expanding on the previous description, California’s Felony-Murder Rule maintains that if a person, either alone or in concert with another, decides to commit an enumerated felony, and, while committing that felony, that person (or anyone acting in concert) kills another, that person, and anyone else involved, can be tried, and convicted, of murder. The intention of the Felony-Murder Rule is deterrence – to deter people from committing felonies and to deter people from putting other lives in life-threatening situations while committing certain felonies.

The qualifying felonies for application of the Felony-Murder Rule include:

  • Arson
  • Rape
  • Carjacking
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Mayhem
  • Kidnapping
  • Train wrecking
  • Any murder that is committed during a felony or attempted felony is inherently dangerous to human life

As is evident, it does not matter whether an intent to kill is present, just that a homicide resulted when committing, or attempting to commit, one of these acts.

What is the Proposed Amendment to the Felony-Murder Rule?

The proposed amendment to the Felony-Murder Rule provides a distinction between active and passive persons involved in the underlying felony. That is, the proposed Rule attempts to distinguish between persons who participated in the underlying felony, but did not know a murder was apparent nor participate in the murder, and those who chose to commit murder or aided in the process.

Thus, the law limits liability to those who participated in an underlying felony which resulted in a homicide if the individual was the actual killer or, with an intent to kill, aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, solicited, requested, or assisted the actual killer in the murder.

The intention of this proposed amendment is to hold those who had active participation in murder to a more stringent standard than the person who just participated in the commission of a felony. As an example, a lookout person or a getaway car driver to a burglary in which a homicide took place would not be facing the same penalty – which could be life in prison or the death penalty – as the individual who in fact did kill another person. Rather, such individuals would be charged with aiding and abetting a crime and can face the punishment more appropriate for that crime.

Hire A Criminal Defense Attorney

If you, or someone you love, have been charged with a homicide, and especially if you or a loved one has been charged with a violation of the Felony-Murder Rule, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Los Angeles law firm Manshoory Law Group, APC as soon as possible.

Our knowledge of criminal law, including homicide, is deep, and we will use this knowledge to devise a strategy and present the best case for your or your loved one’s defense. Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us today for an initial consultation.

Shaheen Manshoory
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