What is a felony murder?
If you’re not ready to jump into the deep try this page, it’s like a criminal law mini-course.
Felony Murder In Illinois
Felony murder is listed in the Illinois criminal code along side the standard versions of first degree murder. Thus, in Illinois felony murder is by definition first degree murder.
In fact the murder statute says that,
Purpose Of Felony Murder Statute
The purpose of the felony murder statute is to limit the violence that accompanies the commission of forcible felonies. The thinking is that anyone who decides to commit a forcible felony will automatically be subject to a murder prosecution in the event someone is killed during the commission of the forcible felony.
Ideally, individuals would be discouraged from taking the risk of committing the forcible felony if they knew they could be charged with murder if things go wrong.
The Legal Effect Of Felony Murder
In a practical and legal sense, the effect of the Illinois felony murder statute is to remove the intentional and purposeful mental state usually associated with first degree murder convictions.
The felony-murder doctrine thus stands as a substitute for intent in cases where the defendant’s commission of a felony causes another person’s death.
Therefore, in order to sustain defendant’s felony murder conviction, the State is not required to prove that he had the intent to kill.
Possible Abuse By The State
As we can see, the felony murder statute allows the state to win a murder conviction without having to prove the usual intentional or purposeful mental that is normally required.
The law recognizes that from the evidentiary perspective its “easier” for the state to prove a felony murder. So long as the state can prove up the predicate forcible felony and a death occurred, they got a murder charge.
The concern then is that with a felony murder the state may improperly eliminate the offense of second degree murder and avoid the burden of proving an intentional or knowing first degree murder.
Consider This Example
To understand this concern consider the case of People v. Space, 2018 IL App (1st) 150922 (May). Episode 490 (Duration 10:26) (State Can’t Get A Felony Murder When All The Facts Point To An Intentional Murder)
In that case, a man shot the ex boyfriend of his girlfriend. It was a single gun shot with no other physical contact between the two men.
The state charged the defendant with a felony murder under the theory that the victim died during the commission of the forcible felony of aggravated battery. Getting shot was the aggravated batter.
By charging the case as a felony murder the state no longer had to prove an intent to kill, but even more alarming, the defendant was robbed of any legitimate claims of second degree murder.
Second degree murder is in essence a mitigated from or intentional murder. But by charging the crime as a felony murder the defendant was denied an opportunity to make this claim.
See also People v. O’Neal, 2016 IL App (1st) 132284 (September). Episode 239 (Duration 13:06) (defendant shoots his own friend on accident but was acting under an unreasonable claim of self defense) where it was inappropriate for the state to charge a felony murder.
Examples Of A Forcible Felony
You can see why the requirement of a forcible felony is a requirement if a forcible felony is going to stick.
The key is that the forcible felony has to be distinct and different from the conduct that causes the death. Typical examples include:
- The death of a security guard or customer during a bank robbery
- A struggle ensues during a home burglary and a home owner falls, hits his head and dies
- Defendants crash and kill a pedestrian in the crosswalk when they were trying to flee a gas station robbery
- A store clerk shoots and kills a robber, the getaway driver parked outside can now be charged with a felony murder for his partners death
- Other Kinds of Illinois Homicides or Killings
- People v. Mandoline, 2017 IL App (2d) 150511 (February). Episode 318 (Duration 6:01) (Affirmative Defense To Felony Murder May Exist If A Death Is Not Foreseeable)
- People v. Carey, 2016 IL App (1st) 131944 (August). Episode 228 (Duration 7:35) (This Felony Murder Indictment Was Fatally Flawed And Charges Had To Be Dismissed)
- What is forcible felony in Illinois?