It may seem unbelievable that a person can go to prison for murder when the authorities know that a different person killed the deceased and these facts are presented to the jury. However, it is possible for a person under certain circumstances to be legally charged with murder based on another person killing the victim, under what is commonly known as the felony murder rule. In some states, the felony murder rule has led to some outrageous convictions, including one case in which a man was convicted for a murder committed by others while he was asleep in bed at the time of the murder.
In New York State, the felony murder rule can be found as statutory law allowing a person to be charged with second degree murder when he or she acts alone or in concert with others in the commission of certain felonies and he or another participant causes the death of another person. If the death occurs during the escape immediately following the commission of the crime, those involved in the crime can still be charged with second degree murder. The law does not apply when the death is of one of the people involved in the crime. Some of the felonies covered under this law include robbery, burglary, kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse, and arson.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the felony murder rule is that the person does not have to have the intent to kill in order to be convicted. Death can result from an accident, for example if the accused and others were in a getaway car and were involved in a car accident that kills someone in the other car. This and the fact that a person can be convicted and sent to prison based on another person’s actions, in many cases for the same length of time, has led to the rule being criticized.
Fortunately, the law also allows for an affirmative defense if the charged person did not act alone, and:
● Did not commit, order, request, or assist in the killing;
● Was not carrying a gun or other deadly weapon or any other object that could have caused death or serious physical evidence;
● Did not know or reasonably suspect that the other people he or she was committing the felony with were armed with a deadly weapon or any other object that could be used to cause death or physical harm; and,
● Did not know or reasonably suspect that the other people he or she was committing the felony with would do something that could cause death or serious physical harm.
If the accused can present sufficient evidence of any of the above, he or she may be able to avoid conviction.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or a loved one are charged with felony murder, you need an experienced attorney criminal defense attorney who has handled homicide cases many times in the past. A murder charge is a serious charge that can result in life in prison. Contact experienced Syracuse criminal defense attorney George F. Hildebrandt for a consultation.