A Force Which Shapes Our Criminal Law: Felony Murder Rule

Many folks know little of the origins of the felony murder rule. This article has explored the historic origins of the felony murder doctrine and its development in an effort to compare whether modem felony murder rule statutes used in number jurisdictions truly do derive from the “classic” common law. We won’t find the term “felony murder” in most criminal statutes. The felony-murder rule originated in England under Common Law. The unnamed term is generally just one of the definitions under a first-degree murder statute. First-degree murder is named a felony murder when a person’s being is killed during the commission of a felony. Generally intent to kill is not necessary for felony-murder.

Of all the reforms proposed by the modern penal code, each one is aware of the perennial problem in the felony murder rule. As found in our 19th-century criminal code, the rule has several variations. The basic theme is to hold the charged liable for murder if the killing is associated in any capacity with the endeavor to submit a felony or the departure from the area of a felony. It doesn’t make a difference whether the denounced or an associate causes to death.It does not make a difference whether the mishap happens deliberately or non-carelessly. As per one famous legitimization, the criminal’s goal in perpetuating the felony connects, falsely, to the killing and by one way or another gets changed into the malice aforethought required for killing.

The code represents the importance that the negligible culpability required for murder is more prominent even the foolish killing. The executing must not exclusively be foolish, in any case, what’s more, dedicated under conditions“manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life”.[i]

Under the felony-murder precept, the mens rea is set up by verification of purpose to submit the hidden felony, on a hypothesis of constructive intent. At the point when previously applied in England, “constructive malice” was applied to all executing coming about because of the commission of any unlawful demonstration [ii].The rule was eliminated and criticized various times due to its dual culpability nature and its harshness cause it focus more on the deterrent theory of punishment rather than given a chance except for the fact the offence is minimal even to cause capital punishment or imprisonment over a long term.

The limitations imposed upon the felony-murder doctrine by the various jurisdictions may be discussed in five categories:

(1) Application of the rule only in cases involving inherently dangerous felonies

(2) Treatment Of traditional felony murder as a lesser degree of homicide

(3) The requirement of malice aforethought for felony-murder

(4) Recognition of merger and prosecution considerations as a bar to felony-murder prosecutions (5)Limitation of vicarious liability under the felony-murder rule.

The felony murder rule applies just to those wrongdoings that are considered “inherently dangerous,” as the method of reasoning fundamental the felony murder decides is that sure violations are hazardous to the point that society needs to hinder people from taking part in them through and through. Along these lines, when an individual takes an interest in inherently dangerous wrongdoing, the person in question might be considered answerable for the deadly outcomes of that wrongdoing, regardless of whether another person caused the real demise or in another word it allows the accused to be charged as first-degree murder.

For example, Jonathan Earl Stamp burglarized a California bank at gunpoint. Presently, one of the bank workers had lethal cardiovascular failure. The stamp was indicted for felony murder . [iii].

Numerous readers will perceive the Stamp case as one that criminal law course readings use to outline the brutality of the felony murder rule; the felony-murder doctrine has been the subject of vitriolic criticism for centuries. But it’s a special case to the ordinary rules of murder. Under the felony murder rule, notwithstanding, a defendant can be indicted for murder regardless of whether the respondent didn’t act with the expectation or a reckless indifference; the prosecution must show just that the respondent took an interest in a felony where fatalities happened. Some of the inherently dangerous crime includes rape, robbery, burglary, arson and kidnapping though it can vary from state to state if the offence was only to initiate murder than the merger doctrine (when two different offences leads to one then it merges into one greater offence) will not apply here and the accused can’t be liable for felony murder example if one participated in assault can’t be charged for felony murder cause murder in itself constitute assault.

Other felonies expressly specified are mayhem[iv], sexual molestation of a child[v], sodomy [vi]and escape[vii] and some important additions are hijacking, extortion, and use of a bomb and distribution of narcotics[viii]

With an end goal to mitigate a portion of the brutality inherent in the use of the felony-murder convention to associate obligation circumstances, a few states remember for their crime rules a confirmed barrier to a charge of felony-murder.

(a) Did not submit the homicidal demonstration or in any capacity request, demand, order, implore, cause or help the commission thereof

(b) Was not furnished with a deadly weapon or any instrument, article or substance promptly equipped for causing demise or genuine physical injury and of a sort not conventionally conveyed out in the open places by the public

(c) Had no sensible ground to accept that some other member was outfitted with such a weapon, instrument, article or substance

(d) Had no sensible ground to accept that some other member planned to participate in direct prone to bring about death or genuine physical injury

Felony murder is categorized as first-degree murder and may end in sentencing from several years to captivity. Felony murder is classified as first-degree murder and can bring about condemning from quite a while to real-life imprisonment. , felony murder is viewed as a capital offense, which implies that capital punishment is accessible. In any case, the Supreme Court has forced extra limitations on states that try to force capital punishment for felony murder. In Tison v. Arizona, the Supreme Court reasoned that capital punishment could be considered for a defendant sentenced for felony murder who was a huge member in the basic felony and who acted with foolish lack of interest to human life.


A purpose for enhanced sentencing for felons who kill within the course of their felonious conduct is proportionality. The felony murder rule is the vehicle many states use to enhance such punishment. The rule becomes operative when there’s a killing during or a death soon after the felony.

We have distinguished that reason as guaranteeing that people indicted for felony murder are adequately blamable to merit murder obligation. We have seen that felony murder ordinarily includes some proportion of culpability as for the threat of death, adding up to criminal negligence in any event. A prerequisite of an independent felonious reason – a reason to harm some legal interest beyond the life and health of the casualty guarantees that the predicate felony consolidates enough culpability to justify murder obligation. Felonies entailing depraved indifference to human life do not need an independent felonious purpose to justify murder liability. Predicate felonies expecting purpose to harm or foolishness toward life fulfill this test on the off chance that they likewise require either knowing infringement of independent interest, a debased motive, or a risk to different potential victims. The merger doctrine accomplishes its motivation by requiring enough culpability to justify murder risk, not by requiring an independent felonious reason for each situation.

[i][i] Modelpenal code s 210.2(1) (b)

[ii] E. COKE, THIRD INSTITUTE 56 (6th ed.1680)

[iii] People v. Stamp, 82 Cal. Rptr. 598, 601 (Cal. Ct. App. 1969)

[iv]  it’s included in the provision of Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Idaho and Maryland

[v] one of the provision of Arizona, California and Nevada

[vi] see note 18 supra

[vii] its predicates in 11 states

[viii] a listed felony in Florida, Arizona

This article has been written by Nancy Kesarwani, from Galgotias University 3rd year B.A.L.L.B.

Also Read: Concept Of Rule Of Law With Judicial Precedents

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