Felony Murder Doctrine Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Felony Murder Doctrine, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Felony Murder Doctrine?

n. If a death occurs during a felony, it is considered to be first degree murder and all of the felony’s participants (or attempted felony’s participants) can be charged and found guilty of murder. For example: if a robbery involves more than one criminal and one of them kills a clerk, all of the participants can be found guilty of murder even if they all did not have a gun or intend to hurt anyone. Similarly, if one of the holdup men or women is killed, his/her fellow robbers can be charged with murder.

History and Meaning of Felony Murder Doctrine

Felony Murder Doctrine is a long-standing legal principle that dates back to English common law. The doctrine's original purpose was to deter people from committing felonies by holding them liable for any deaths that occurred as a result of their actions - even if the death was unintended or accidental. Under this doctrine, the perpetrator of a felony is held responsible for any deaths that occur during the commission of that felony, regardless of whether the death was premeditated, accidental, or caused by a co-conspirator.

In the United States, the Felony Murder Doctrine has been incorporated into the criminal codes of most states, and it continues to be used to prosecute defendants who are responsible for the death of another person during the commission of a felony.

Examples of Felony Murder Doctrine

  1. A group of men rob a convenience store, during which one of the robbers pulls out a gun and shoots the store clerk. Under the Felony Murder Doctrine, all of the perpetrators can be charged with murder, even if they were not the one who pulled the trigger.
  2. A driver, while evading police, hits a pedestrian who ultimately dies from the injuries. Under the Felony Murder Doctrine, the driver can be charged with first-degree murder based on the underlying felony of evading police.
  3. A group of teenagers breaks into an abandoned building to steal copper wiring. While inside the building, a fire breaks out and one of the teenagers dies in the blaze. Under the Felony Murder Doctrine, all of the teens involved can be charged with murder, even if they did not start the fire.

Legal Terms Similar to Felony Murder Doctrine

  • Accomplice liability: Legal principle that holds a person responsible for the actions of another person if they assist, aid, or encourage that person in the commission of a crime.
  • Causation: The act of a person's actions leading to or causing a particular outcome, such as a death.
  • Mens rea: A legal concept that refers to a person's criminal intent or mental state at the time of the crime.
  • Second-degree murder: A criminal charge that involves killing someone with malice aforethought, but without premeditation or deliberation.
  • Involuntary manslaughter: A criminal charge that involves killing someone without malice or premeditation, but as a result of reckless behavior or criminal negligence.