What Is Felony Murder?

When you make a choice you are also responsible for the consequences of those actions – regardless of your real intention. While the crime of murder requires malice aforethought, Arizona’s felony murder rule holds individuals accountable for first-degree murder if they commit any one of a list of felonies, and if during the commission or attempted commission of that felony or while immediately fleeing the scene you or another person cause someone’s death.

To differentiate between different offenses of homicide (the legal catchall word for taking the life of another), the court looks to the defendant’s intent or state of mind. We look at whether the defendant was merely negligent, acted recklessly, exhibited extreme indifference to human life, etc. 

In order to be found guilty of felony murder, no premeditation is even required. Essentially the only thing separating Manslaughter from Felony Murder is the intent to commit a felony. 

No Intent Required

In other words, you can be found guilty of first-degree murder even if you had no intention to kill anyone and even if you didn’t act with negligence. In fact, you don’t even have to be the person to have participated in the homicide at all, other than to have committed or attempted to commit the felony. 

Some of the felonies involved in the felony murder rule include:

  • Rape
  • Sexual Abuse of a Child
  • Terrorism
  • Kidnapping
  • Burglary
  • Narcotics offenses
  • Marijuana offenses
  • Unlawful flight

Eligibility for the Death Penalty

It is also important to understand that felony murder in Arizona is an offense eligible for the death penalty. The purpose of the felony murder rule is to deter individuals from committing inherently dangerous criminal acts. Like Arizona, most states currently have their own version of the rule. 

Many, especially those in Arizona, have argued that the felony murder rule, which dates back to 12th-century common law, is simply unjust as the list of offenses that can trigger the rule include not only very serious crimes, but also less serious crimes including unlawful flight and drug crimes. The offense that led to the felony murder charge can be considered an aggravating factor, which is required to impose the death penalty. The idea of receiving the death penalty for fleeing the police would shock most of us, but under Arizona law it is eligible.

Arizona Lawyers Helps Those in Arizona Who Have Been Charged with a Crime

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, the way in which you handle it can greatly impact the rest of your life. At Arizona Lawyers, our Phoenix Criminal Defense attorneys work tirelessly to obtain the best outcome for you and to make a bad situation better. We always do what is in the best interest of our clients. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!