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Felony murder, also known as constructive malice, is a legal rule used in the United States and some other jurisdictions (although not in the UK since 1957, where it's now manslaughter instead) stating that any death that occurs during the commission of felony is first-degree murder.
The common scenario is that of someone suffering a fatal heart attack during the course of a bank robbery. That death, which may have been caused by the stress of the robbery or the failure to get medical treatment caused during it, would be counted as first-degree murder. Likewise, numerous criminals have found themselves charged with Felony Murder because their accomplice was shot in self-defense by the intended victim. Cue the criminal's family screaming about how it wasn't even their poor misunderstood choirboy who pulled the trigger. The reasoning behind this law is that if the criminals had not been committing a felony, then the victim would not have died, therefore the criminals are responsible for the death.
First degree murder is a capital (death penalty) crime in many jurisdictions, but Supreme Court decisions in the U.S. have restricted this somewhat; in order to be eligible for the death penalty, a participant in a felony murder must either:
- Attempt to kill,
- Intend that a killing take place, or
- Act with reckless indifference to human life.
Can serve as Justice by Other Legal Means.
Contains spoilers, by definition.
- In one episode of CSI, a man convicted in 1991 of killing a man during a burglary (put away by evidence from Catherine Willow's first solo case) appeals his conviction. It's found his girlfriend did it, but since he was present and covered it up, he is guilty of felony murder.
- Also used in the "Fight Night" episode's opening sequence, where the in-ring death of a boxer is provisionally declared a murder because the fight's organizers had rigged the betting odds to ensure they'd make a fortune. Someone was indeed charged with the boxer's murder, but that's because the other fighter had loaded his gloves with mercury for a neck-snapping punch, not because of the felony murder statute.
- In The Closer, a kid was killed because a man fired a warning shot at a couple of gang bangers who were trying to steal his car, and the bullet flew two blocks away and hit the kid. The bangers were arrested for Felony Murder as they instigated the crime which led to the kid's accidental death.
- Vinny on Wiseguy used criminals' fear of this law to save an innocent person without blowing his cover. A customer suffered a heart attack when Vinny (an undercover fed) was helping rob a bank, and Vinny insisted that the real crooks let him save the man, ostensibly because he didn't want to risk a felony murder charge.
- Used in an issue of Nightwing, complete with a woman dropping dead of a heart attack during a robbery.
- A favorite tactic of Jack McCoy in Law and Order was, if he couldn't get someone dead to rights on murder, was to go after them for Felony Murder, usually with regard to how it related to suspects who acted with reckless indifference for human life.
- On one episode of Breakout Kings, one of the fugitives was a man who had been put away for felony murder after he stole a car when he was 18 to go joyriding (his elderly victim had a heart attack when pulled out of the car). Once in prison he was sexually abused by the other inmates -- he broke out mainly to get revenge on his main tormenter, who had gotten out and gotten married.
- A very recent (January 2012) Real Life case: A young woman, who was home alone with her infant shot and killed an intruder after he broke into her home. His accomplice, who ran away at the sound of the shots, is facing Felony Murder charges. She, on the other hand, won't be facing any charges.