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What is felony murder?

On Behalf of | Mar 17, 2023 | Violent crimes

Murder typically requires intent. If someone does not intend to take a life, even if they do so negligently, then they may be charged with manslaughter or some other lesser charge. But in order for it to be first-degree murder, there has to be intent and it needs to be premeditated. 

Felony murder is an example of an exception to this rule. What is this and how does it change how the law applies?

Death during a felony

Essentially, felony murder means that someone can be charged with murder if they are committing a felony and a person dies as a result. The person who was committing the felony may not have had any intent to take a life. They may not have even realized it was going to happen. But they can still be charged with murder because they were committing a felony that led to death.

An example of this could be arson. Perhaps someone is in a disagreement with a neighbor and sets fire to part of their property. They believe that no one is home and that this will just be a property crime. However, unbeknownst to them, their neighbor is actually sleeping in the house. They pass away from smoke inhalation. 

Since arson is a felony to begin with, that person could be charged with murder, even though they did not have any intent to kill their neighbor and honestly did not believe that the person was home at the time.

This is just one example of how serious charges can come about. Those who are facing them need to be sure they know about all of their defense options.