Felony Murder Rule

The felony murder rule has been in existence in the United States since the late 1700s.    Some states have adopted the doctrine although the definition and penalties differ from state to state. 

This rule has been debated throughout history resulting in some precise circumstances that must exist for the rule to be invoked, along with limitations in punishment of persons who are convicted under this rule.  Some states have abolished the rule altogether. 

There are pros and cons to this rule; however, the administration of it seems inconsistent.  Application of the rule makes total sense in some cases, but other cases the associated penalty seems totally unfair.  Reading about the cases that involve this rule is likely to stir up emotions engaging you in the debate as a proponent, a critic or an antagonist.

Felony Murder Rule Defined

As stated previously, this rule is defined differently from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  In general, this rule applies to cases where death results during or due to the commission of a felony.  In some cases, all perpetrators and conspirators of the crime can be held responsible for the death whether or not they were directly involved in ending life.

Felony Murder Cases

In some cases, the felony murder rule makes sense, while in others it seems uncalled for.  The fact that people can be sentenced to life in prison or receive the death penalty when in fact they had no intent to kill and did not engage in the killing is disturbing.

In child endangerment cases, like the one in Texas where Jessica Tata was charged with felony murder for leaving seven children (three years old and younger) in her home daycare unsupervised, the felony murder charges are rational.  While she was shopping a pan on the stove ignited resulting in a fire that killed four of the children and injured the remaining three.  

Another reasonable conviction is that of Noel Chua.  As a physician, he prescribed multiple prescriptions to a drug addict with whom he had a relationship.  The victim died of an overdose of painkillers in Chua's home.  The charges were related to prescribing controlled substances that weren't for a legitimate purpose. 

Both of these cases are somewhat debatable, but these people did actually cause the death of others through their actions, even if there was no intent.  On the other hand, there are cases prosecuted under the felony murder rule that make little sense. 

The Story of Brandon Hein, Jason Holland, Anthony Miliotti, and Micah Holland

The eminent case of the Elkhart 4 comes to mind when thinking of murder cases that bring the "Huh?" effect.  In this case, five young men, most in their teens broke into a home that they thought was unoccupied and they were unarmed.  The owner of the home was there and shot two of perpetrators.  One of them died.  The other four were charged with felony murder, convicted and given prison sentences ranging from 45 to 55 years.  In appeal, three of the convictions were reversed with the cases sent back to the trial court to sentence the men for burglary.  The fourth perpetrator took a plea bargain that prevents him from appealing his case. 

Another harsh sentence, life in prison without the possibly of parole, was handed down to a 20 year old, Ryan Holle.  Holle loaned his vehicle to a friend who was planning on burglarizing a home.  Holle stayed behind and has stated that he thought it was a joke when he was told his friend and three others were going to steal a safe.  During the burglary a woman was beat to death by one of the perpetrators.  Holle wasn't at the crime scene and he was convicted of first degree murder under the felony murder rule. 

What is your opinion of the felony murder rule... is it just, does it need revision, or does it need to be abolished? 

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