Wrongful death can occur during a felony. This act is defined in various different ways depending on the state where the crime was committed. In a few states, the death constitutes as murder and is known, more or less, as a felony murder. The felony murder rule applies only to crimes that are considered ‘inherently dangerous.’ These are the types of crimes that are deemed so dangerous by the authorities that individuals have to be made to deter them altogether. Although all crimes are a nuisance to the society, some hold a higher degree of risk to life and property as compared to others. These crimes include:
- Sexual battery
- Aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult
- Home-invasion robbery
- Aggravated fleeing or eluding with serious bodily injury or death
- Resisting an officer with violence to his or her person
The exact crimes classified as ‘inherently dangerous’ may vary from state to state, but they generally constitute those mentioned above. Any death that might occur during these crimes can be covered under the felony murder rule.
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What is the felony murder rule?
In a few states, a death that occurs during the commission of a felony, whether intentional or unintentional, is charged as first-degree murder under the felony murder rule. The felony murder doctrine states that a person might be charged with murder even if they didn’t have the intent or weren’t even present at the scene of the crime.
For instance, Bert and Ernie decide to commit a robbery. They agree that Bert will commit the crime while Ernie will wait outside in the car to serve as the driver for a quick getaway. During the robbery, things get out of hand and Bert ends up shooting a cashier, who dies on the spot. The felony murder doctrine states that both Bert and Ernie will be charged for the murder even though neither of them had the intent and Ernie wasn’t even present at the scene of the crime.
Limitations on the rule
Not all states implement the felony murder doctrine, and others have significantly limited its use. This is because the person committing the felony had no intention of causing the murder so the death is not considered a first-degree but a second-degree crime. Some of these limitations include:
The felonies during which murder was committed: Courts and judges can pass variable judgments depending on a case to case basis or on the crime that is being committed when the death occurred. The subsequent judgments, therefore, can differ considerably.
Overlapping crimes: At times, there are chances that somehow the intent to murder is involved in the crime. In such a case, the original crime might disappear because the murder is considered a part of the felony.
Limitations of time and distance: Some courts also implement limitations of time for a felony murder. This time is measured from the time when the killing occurred and not when the actual death resulted from it. This means that a killing during a getaway can be charged under a felony murder and so can the death where a person succumbed to his wounds after 7 days of being shot during a felony.
The sentences awarded in felony murders may vary from one state to another as well from one case to another. While almost all states have a felony murder rule, not all of them implement it in a consistent way. In states where murder committed during a felony is a first-degree offense, the laws can allow punishment of several years or even life. In other states, capital punishment is also available for those who commit a felony murder.
However, in some cases, courts have issued variable judgments in these cases. One such example is the Enmund vs. Florida case where the Supreme Court rejected the imposition of the death penalty because the accused only had a small role in the underlying felony. It is important to analyze the case on facts as well as discuss with a respective attorney to get a better idea of what sentence might apply and what might not.
Florida and the Felony Murder Rule
In the state of Florida, a homicide or the death of a human being can be considered as a felony murder under certain conditions. The prosecutor has to prove that the person who committed the murder had a significant role in the felony, i.e., they intended to participate in the felony even if they didn’t perform the killing.
Only then can the state charge the person for first-degree murder. Felonies under the laws in Florida include but are not limited to sexual battery, burglary, with home-invasion and kidnapping. These felonies are listed under state laws and a person can consult their attorney to find out the specific details for each case.
Benefits of Hiring A Wrongful Death Attorney
While attorneys play a vital role in determining the course of action and subsequent results for all kinds of crimes, their roles come to light much more extensively when complicated crimes are involved. The felony murder doctrine is one such law. There are a number of limitations and legal depths that have to be understood for the crime to be defined as a felony murder.
Only a proficient attorney can help make the case clear in terms of which charges might apply and which ones may not. An experienced attorney can help you file the right claims and obtain the necessary punishments as well as compensations that you are entitled to because of the wrongful death of a loved one.
The wrongful death during a felony no longer remains a simple death under most state laws, it becomes a felony murder. The punishment and respective handling of the case is then determined according to the felony murder doctrine. Although most states implement these laws, the way they are implemented and the scenarios that they cover might vary. There are also certain limitations that courts can place on the way this doctrine is executed in each case. This is why it is important to sit with an attorney and discuss the specifics of each case beforehand.