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felony murder rule

The felony murder rule is a legal doctrine that expands the definition of murder and makes criminal accomplices (including a lookout or getaway driver) as responsible for a death that occurs in the course of a dangerous felony crime as the person who directly caused the death by pulling the trigger of a gun, stabbing the victim with a knife, strangling the victim, or otherwise causing the victim’s death. Examples of dangerous felony crimes that implicate the felony murder rule include robbery, burglary, rape, aggravated kidnapping, carjacking, and arson.

When the felony murder rule applies, it may make a criminal accomplice liable for murder even if the criminals had agreed that no one would be killed in the course of the crime, and even if it is a fellow criminal who is killed in the course of the crime—such as when a police officer or security guard shoots a bank robber—which may result in all other accomplices to the crime being charged with murder.

In many states the felony murder rule—and any distinctions between the culpability of accomplices and principals to a crime—are located in the state’s statutes—often in the penal or criminal code.

In Texas, the felony murder rule is codified in the Texas Penal Code under Section 19.02(b)(3). According to this statute, a person commits murder if they commit or attempt to commit a felony, and in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt, or in immediate flight from the commission or attempt, they commit or attempt to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual. The rule applies even if the death was unintentional. The felonies that can invoke the felony murder rule in Texas typically include those considered inherently dangerous, such as robbery, burglary, kidnapping, arson, and sexual assault. Under this rule, all participants in the felony can be held liable for a death that occurs during the commission of the felony, regardless of their level of direct involvement in the lethal act. This means that accomplices, such as a lookout or getaway driver, can be charged with murder even if they did not personally cause the death. The rule also applies if a co-felon is killed during the crime, potentially by law enforcement.

Legal articles related to this topic

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