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California May End the Felony Murder Rule

Aug 08, 2018 by Mike McKneely in Criminal Defense
A Crime Scene Investigation

California has numerous harsh laws that have come under recent scrutiny, including three strikes and the felony murder rule. Under the felony murder rule, you can be charged with murder if you are involved in the commission of a California felony and someone, anyone, dies during the offense–even if that death was completely accidental or you were only an accomplice or conspirator. California lawmakers are rethinking this rule. The legislature is reviewing proposals that would eliminate the felony murder rule, making it so you could only be convicted of murder if you actually killed another person, intended to kill another, or acted with reckless indifference to human life.

If you are currently facing felony murder charges, the best thing you can do is hire an experienced and aggressive Fresno murder defense attorney. Contact Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer at (559) 443-7442, or reach out online to schedule a free consultation of your case.

California’s Felony Murder Rule

To be convicted of murder in California, you must have acted with malice aforethought. This is stated in California Penal Code (PC) Section 187, which is one of the statutes that defines the offense of murder. Malice aforethought means you either acted intentionally to kill or acted in another way with a reckless disregard for human life. Essentially, your state of mind and intention matter in regard to whether or not you committed murder.

The felony murder rule is an exception to California’s homicide law. You can be charged with first-degree or second-degree murder even if you never intended to cause another person harm, because you took part in committing a felony listed in PC Section 189 or any other inherently dangerous felony.

For example, you may have conspired with two other individuals to burgle a home while the family was on vacation. Your task was to wait in the car as the lookout, and to drive away after the crime had been committed. After breaking into the home, the other two individuals discovered a house sitter. One of them struck the house sitter on the head, which led to her death. Despite the fact you never entered the house or in any way harmed the house sitter, you could face charges for felony murder under California’s current law.

California Reconsiders Felony Murder Rule

The California Assembly currently has a bill that would significantly alter the felony murder rule if signed into law, though the rule would not be gone completely. If SB 1437 passes, you could only be charged with murder in California if you:

  • Killed someone
  • Intended to kill
  • Participated in the felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life

As the Legislative Counsel’s Digest states, the “bill would prohibit malice from being imputed to a person based solely on his or her participation in a crime.” If you had little-to-no involvement in the death of another, despite being involved with the felony offense, you would not be charged with murder.

The bill also provides a method for those convicted under the felony murder rule to have their convictions vacated and to be resentenced. This would only be possible if they could not have been charged with murder under the new law.

The bill has already passed through the California Senate and the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee. The next hurdle is the State Assembly itself.

California is not the first to take a hard look at their felony murder rule. Other states have abolished such measures already, including Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Michigan. Pennsylvania also is considering a similar reform bill.

Have You Been Charged with Felony Murder?

One day, felony murder charges in California may be the thing of the past. However, the law is alive and well today. You or a loved one could be charged with first or second-degree murder for a death that occurred while you were committing a felony, even if you were not directly responsible for the death.

In this situation, it is best to hire an experienced attorney. Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer will fight to exonerate you in court, and work hard to protect your freedom. To discuss your case, contact us today at (559) 443-7442.

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