In the commission of a violent felony, meaning burglary, robbery, arson or rape, if someone is killed, according to the felony murder rule all perps involved will be charged with murder. This holds whether or not the death was intended or planned. It holds if each perpetrator had a hand in the killing or not.
Advocates of the felony murder rule argue that by choosing crime, criminals take on risks. Foreseeable tragic death is one of these risks. Society must hold criminals accountable for the risks they took. And so, in the interest of public safety, they argue for zero tolerance for acts that cause loss of life.
Earlier this year, a Florida television news report told the story of a man who was serving a sentence of life without parole in Marion Correctional Institute. About 20 years ago, the man says, he gave his car keys to four friends who said they were going to burglarize the home of someone they knew. And then he went to sleep.
While he was asleep, the four friends burglarized the target home. One of those men also savagely beat a young woman to death in the home.
Ultimately, all five men were charged with murder and sentenced to life without parole— even the man who wasn’t present, wasn’t awake when it happened, and never thought his friends’ burglary plans were real.
Party to the crime
According to the law, Ryan was a party to the crime and would be held accountable along with the others. But for the keys to that vehicle, the crime would not have happened that night.
The man’s case later came up before a clemency board, and his sentence was reduced to 25 years.
Is this justice?
Opponents of the felony murder rule argue there should be latitude in sentencing.
All those who are accused of a crime have the right to a defense. That’s true whether the alleged crime was violent or not. And when the charges are legally complex and the potential penalties severe, it is especially important for the accused to seek out experienced help in criminal defense.