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The felony murder rule in Maryland—What it means

On Behalf of | May 28, 2024 | Violent crimes

Even if someone did not intend to kill, Maryland’s felony murder rule could make them liable for a crime that results in death. This includes situations where a killing occurs during the accused’s commission of an inherently dangerous felony. This harsh legal doctrine allows prosecutors to pursue first-degree murder charges, even for unintentional killings. Convictions can result in life prison sentences.

If facing felony murder charges, mounting a strong defense is critical.

Elements of a felony murder charge

For felony murder charges, prosecutors must establish:

  • The accused committed or attempted one of Maryland’s inherently dangerous felonies
  • Someone was killed during the commission of that felony
  • The death resulted directly from the accused’s commission of the underlying felony

Felonies considered inherently life-threatening include arson, rape, carjacking and other violent crimes. Robberies, burglaries and drug crimes can also trigger felony murder charges if a death occurs.

Two guilty verdicts: An example

In a recent case, Raekwon Griffin and Montay Shuler committed an armed robbery in Baltimore that turned deadly. Though Griffin did not fire the gun himself, his accomplice Shuler fatally shot Darrin Stewart and Brian Palmer during the robbery.

Despite Griffin claiming he never intended violence, prosecutors charged him with two counts of felony murder under Maryland’s doctrine. A judge found Griffin guilty on both counts and sentenced the 22-year-old to life in prison plus 25 years.

Are there defenses to this charge?

Potential defenses depend on the specific facts of the case. For instance, if the evidence shows the accused withdrew from the felony before the killing occurred or the death didn’t directly result from the dangerous crime, then challenging the prosecution’s case becomes more viable. Mounting a solid defense often requires poking holes in the state’s evidence.

At times, an effective defense involves closely analyzing the prosecution’s case. The defense must identify any gaps, contradictions or implausible claims in the evidence presented. Very often, by identifying and pulling on these threads, the entire prosecution’s case can unravel, but doing this is extremely difficult. Prosecutors only need to prove the accused’s participation in the underlying violent felony that led to the death.

For those facing felony murder charges, consider seeking help from a Maryland attorney. An attorney can provide representation against such serious charges under the felony murder rule.