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Explaining the “felony-murder rule” in Alabama

On Behalf of | Aug 1, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

There’s a lot of controversy around something called the “felony-murder rule.” Some states have revised their laws considerably but have kept some form of it on the books.

Essentially, the rule states that if someone dies during the commission of a felony (including one of the alleged perpetrators), the person directly responsible for the death and potentially anyone involved in the felony criminal activity can be charged with murder.

Here in Alabama, the law states that a person is considered to have committed murder if “in the course of and in furtherance of the crime that he or she is committing or attempting to commit, or in immediate flight therefrom, he or she, or another participant if there be any, causes the death of any person.”

What kinds of crimes can lead to a murder charge?

The crimes that a person could be involved in that could lead to a murder charge include:

  • Arson
  • Burglary or robbery
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape
  • Escape

Other felony crimes that pose a clear danger to human life can also be included in this list.

A law professor at the University of Alabama School of Law recently illustrated an example of how this rule could apply to USA Today. For example, if an individual was attempting to steal property and another person slip and fell and died from their injuries, the first individual could face murder charges. This could be the case even though they may not have intended for anyone to die or the death may have been accidental.

The Felony-murder Rule was recently the cause of controversy in Prattville, Alabama.  A person charged with capital murder plead guilty to murder.  When describing what he did to be guilty, he described his behavior as a violation of the felony-murder rule. He claimed to have taken no part in the actual killing but was present and benefitted from it.

Arguments for and against the felony-murder rule

The felony-murder rule has long been controversial, with many legal experts agreeing that such charges can lead to “an over-prosecution” of the defendant to seek the harshest possible punishment. On the other hand, proponents of the rule claim that it serves as a deterrent to committing violent or dangerous crimes, although The Atlantic reports there is little evidence to support this. More than 40 states, as well as Washington, D.C., still use some version of the rule.

If you or a loved one face murder charges for a death that occurred during a felony, it is crucial to seek experienced legal guidance immediately.