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What You Need to Know About California's Felony Murder Rule

Posted on in Criminal Defense

first-degree murder, California felony murder rule, felony murder, San Jose homicide defense lawyers, San Jose  manslaughter defense lawyersCalifornia’s felony murder rule is a bit complex and frequently misunderstood. For case specific information regarding California’s felony murder rule, it is critical that you consult directly with a local criminal defense lawyer as each case is unique. However, consider the following information to better understand this unique area of the law. 

What is the Felony Murder Rule?

California’s felony murder rule allows an individual to be convicted of murder if he or she, or his or her co-felon, kills another person while committing (or attempting to commit) an enumerated felony, regardless of whether or not the killing was an accident.

In essence, this means that if you and your buddy decide to commit a qualifying felony, and while committing that felony your buddy accidentally (or intentionally) kills someone, you can be convicted of murder. There has been a lot of debate back and forth in recent years on whether or not the felony murder rule is fair, but supporters of the rule usually claim that it both deters people from committing felonies and from putting others in life threatening situations while committing felonies.

Qualifying Felonies

The California Penal Code section 189 lists the various felonies that can be used to convict someone of first-degree murder via the felony murder rule. These felonies include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Arson,
  • Rape,
  • Mayhem,
  • Kidnapping,
  • Robbery
  • Carjacking, and
  • Burglary.

Additionally, killings committed during the commission, or attempted commission, of a felony that is inherently dangerous to human life can can be used to convict someone of second-degree murder under CA’s felony murder rule.

Examples

Felony murder can be a bit tricky to grasp, so let us look at a few hypothetical examples to help illustrate the ins and outs of this important law.

  • Example #1: You decide to rob someone at gunpoint. Your victim resists and tries to take your gun from you. During the ensuing struggle the gun accidentally goes off and kills the victim you intended only to rob. Due to California’s felony murder rule, you can be charged with first-degree murder—robbery is one of the qualifying felonies listed under section 189 of the penal code and while attempting to commit that felony you accidentally killed someone.

  • Example #2: You and your friend decide to rob a bank. Before entering the bank you both agree that you will not bring your guns with you. However, unbeknownst to you, you friend does bring a firearm with him and intentionally shoots and kills the bank manager when he will not cooperate. Both you and your friend can be charged with first-degree murder because you were co-felons who caused someone’s death during the commission of a qualifying felony. It makes no difference that you had agreed not to bring guns to the robbery.

Do You Need Legal Advice? Contact a Local Homicide Defense Attorney

At Jachimowicz Law Group we employ a team of well respected San Jose homicide and manslaughter defense lawyers who are committed to tirelessly fighting in defense of our clients. If you have been charged with homicide, manslaughter, or a related criminal offense in Northern California, contact our San Jose office today to find out what our firm can do for you.

Source:

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PEN&sectionNum=189 .

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