What Is “Felony Murder”?
If someone asked you to define the term “murder,” you might respond that it is the “intentional killing of another human being.” And while this is one definition of murder, it is also possible to legally commit murder without forming an intent to kill. In fact, the Texas Penal Code provides three separate definitions of murder:
- intentionally or knowingly causing the death of an individual;
- committing an act, with intent to cause serious bodily injury, that is clearly dangerous to human life and causes the death of an individual; or
- committing or attempting to commit a felony, other than manslaughter, during the course of which a person commits (or attempts) an act that is clearly dangerous to human life and causes the death of an individual.
This last definition is known as felony murder. It effectively expands the definition of murder to cover situations where a person kills without intent. Indeed, it can even apply to individuals who are not directly responsible for a person’s death.
Hypothetical Examples of Felony Murder in Texas
So how exactly does the felony murder rule work? The classic hypothetical example involves two people rob a bank. One person enters the bank with a gun while the second stays in the “getaway” car. Neither robber starts out intending to actually hurt anyone. But during the course of the robbery, the first robber gets nervous and fires their weapon, striking and killing a bank teller. The first robber quickly runs out into the car and the two robbers speed away.
Under the felony-murder rule, both robbers are guilty of murder. The fact that the driver was not even in the bank when it happened is irrelevant. He still committed a felony, during the course of which someone was killed.
Or to slightly alter this example, let’s say the robbery went off without a hitch. Nobody fired any shots inside the bank. But during the getaway the driver accidentally struck and killed a pedestrian who was crossing the street. Prosecutors could still charge both men with felony murder, as the victim’s death occurred while the robbers were in “immediate flight” from their initial criminal act.
From a legal standpoint, felony murder is no treated no differently than murder, It is a first-degree felony under the Texas Penal Code. This carries a minimum prison sentence of 5 years and the possibility of life in prison. Also note that if certain aggravating circumstances apply, felony murder can also be prosecuted as capital murder–meaning the death penalty is also a possibility.
Contact Pearland Criminal Defense Attorney Keith B. French Today
Prosecutors are often eager to prosecute felony murder cases because they do not need to prove intent to kill–only that the defendant committed a “predicate felony” that resulted in someone’s death. This means that if you are facing a felony murder charge, you need to take the matter seriously. Your first step should be to speak with an experienced Pearland criminal defense lawyer. Contact the Law Office of Keith B. French, PLLC, today to schedule a case evaluation.