What is the Felony Murder Rule and How Does it Apply?

by LegalFix
Posted: June 7, 2024
felony murder rule

The criminal justice system has a wide variety of rules, principles, and doctrines that have evolved over time. One of the most debated, and perhaps misunderstood, is the felony murder rule. Today, we’ll break down what this rule entails, its application, and the role of legal representation when dealing with charges related to it.

At its core, the felony murder rule states that if someone dies during a felony, all participants in that felony can be charged with and found guilty of murder.

What is the Felony Murder Rule?

At its core, the felony murder rule states that if someone dies during the commission of a certain felony, all participants in that felony can be charged with and found guilty of murder—even if they didn't intend to kill or didn't personally cause the death. 

The reasoning behind this rule is rooted in the belief that certain felonies are inherently dangerous and carry a foreseeable risk of death. Thus, anyone involved should be held accountable for the unintended consequences. This can be true whether there was one victim or multiple

Examples of Felony Murder

Illustrate this concept in a more concrete way, let’s consider a few potential scenarios. 

Robbery Gone Wrong

Let's say three individuals plot to rob a bank. During the heist, one of them accidentally shoots and kills a security guard. Even if the other two did not fire any shots or had no intention of harming anyone, under the felony murder rule, all three can be charged with murder. 

Accidental Death During a Home Invasion

Suppose a group plans to commit burglary. While they're inside a house, the homeowner gets frightened, suffers a heart attack, and dies. Even if the burglars had no direct hand in the homeowner's death, they might still face murder charges because the death occurred during the commission of a felony. 

However, it's crucial to note that not all felonies invoke the felony murder rule. The underlying felony must typically be inherently dangerous, such as burglary, kidnapping, or arson

Application of the Felony Murder Rule Today

The felony murder rule isn't without its critics. Many argue it's overly broad, punishing individuals disproportionately for unintended consequences. In response to such critiques, some states have modified or limited the application of the rule. 

For example, some states require that the death be a foreseeable result of the felony for the rule to apply. In others, it might be classified as a lower or higher degree of murder, leading to different sentences. 

However, the Supreme Court has limited the use of the death penalty for felony murder. In the case of Enmund v. Florida, they ruled that someone involved in a felony but who didn't intend to kill couldn't be sentenced to death. A later Supreme Court case, however, Tison v. Arizona, allowed for the death penalty because the defendant had displayed a reckless disregard for human life and played a significant role in the crime.

Know the Laws with LegalFix

The felony murder rule is a clear testament to the complexities and nuances inherent in the criminal justice system. A situation that may seem straightforward—a crime where no one intended to kill—can suddenly evolve into a murder charge with life-altering consequences.

In such high-stakes scenarios, the importance of early and qualified legal representation cannot be overstated. If you or someone you know ever finds themselves in a situation where the felony murder rule might come into play, securing a seasoned criminal defense attorney is paramount. Even before any formal charges are laid out, having this legal advocate in your corner can profoundly impact the trajectory of your case and safeguard your rights. 

Whether you want to know more about the felony murder rule or just want a better understanding of how our legal system works, LegalFix is your go-to source for free legal information. You can find helpful articles and state-specific explanations of nearly 1,600 legal topics—and browse the state and federal statutes to better understand the laws that affect you. Just visit to find all this content—and check back often for more valuable legal products and services coming soon.