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Criminal Law Spring 2017

III.C.iii. Felony Murder

In criminal law, sometimes the result trumps the intention. Perhaps the least intuitive category of homicide that we will study is felony murder. Under the felony murder rule, accidental and unintentional killings that occur during the commission of a felony are sometimes elevated from unintentional homicide to murder. The felony murder rule has been controversial. It has evolved in scope over time, and, as the cases below show, is now often limited to inherently dangerous felonies. By transferring intention and blameworthiness from a separate felony to a homicide, the felony murder rule significantly raises the stakes of any felony that may tangentially and even unforeseeably lead to death. Why might the felony murder doctrine have developed? Consider how courts have limited it over time. What concerns have animated criticisms of the rule? Have the courts’ efforts to limit the rule preserved its usefulness, or is it an unfortunate relic of the past?