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I need a present or former prosecutor for this question. Pertaining to felony murder:

Snow Hill, NC |

Our constitution insists on fairness and justice in our legal system. Why is it that in every crime proof beyond a reasonable doubt is needed for a conviction, yet the felony murder rule can convict on nothing more than mere speculation? No proof is required. Is this not going against our rights? What earthy good is the felony murder rule? England herself has abolished is years ago, because it was unfair and cruel. I understand the rule quite well but please explain to me how this doctrine serves a purpose, certainly now deterrence as it was originally intended. As prosecutor, how can you convict an innocent person without proof of anything? A lifetime is a very long time for being in the wrong place at the wrong time....thank you in advance

Attorney Answers 5


  1. I'm slightly insulted that you aimed your question at prosecutors. It's the law of the land. As a Constitutional Law defender, I can tell you that nobody should lose their life because of the decision of another to break the law. As you said, a lifetime is a very long time [for someone to give up their life] behind another's illegal actions. For example, if the bank robber hadn't robbed the bank the ***innocent*** bystander would not have been run over, shot, or killed (even if by mistake). In my job, I have to insure my client's rights are met with respect, and that if available to present enough "reasonable doubt" to show that the prosecution has not met its burden.

    The above response is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.


  2. Lets look at this issue another way. To be convicted of first degree murder, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you either committed the murder in a willful, deliberate, premeditated manner (the statute of course names other scenarios: by WMD, poison, torture, etc.; but the basic premise is premeditation) OR during the commission of a violent felony (i.e. arson, rape or a sex offense, robbery, kidnapping, burglary). If its proven beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed one of the enumerated felonies and it's proven beyond a reasonable doubt that someone was killed during the commission of that felony, you are then guilty of first degree murder by way of the "felony-murder" (rather than the "premeditated") component of the statute. It's hard to read that as someone being convicted on nothing more than mere speculation or that no proof is required. Just my thoughts, hope this helps.

    The above is not intended as legal advice. The response does not constitute the creation of an attorney-client relationship.


  3. England (and Wales) did abolish the doctrine of felony murder, but do have a broader definition of murder than we have in the States.

    Most states in the US do have felony murder. The doctrine requires that the actor be engaged in a felony and that a death occur during that felony.

    The purpose is to discourage the commission of felonies. However, conviction for the felony is probably enough of a disincentive.

    You still need to prove the commission of the felony beyond a reasonable doubt. I would suggest to you that the convicted person is not an innocent naif.

    Of course, what's lacking from felony murder is the need to prove intent to kill beyond a reasonable doubt. But then again we don't insist that people driving under the influence have the specific intent to get into accidents; they're responsible for the accidents they occur. As a society, we have decided that certain consequences of our activities are foreseeable and that those who undertake those activities must be responsible for those foreseeable consequences.


  4. UK didn't get rid of the charge, they changed the name; additionally they apply a looser standard of what constitutes murder.

    For felony murder in US the underlying felony requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt; the death requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt;no speculation is allowed or involved.

    NOT LEGAL ADVICE. FOR EDUCATION AND INFORMATION ONLY. DO NOT RELY ON ANY ADVICE YOU RECEIVE FROM ME OR ANY OTHER ATTORNEY IN THIS FORUM. Legal advice comes after a complete review of the facts and relevant documents and an expressed (written) agreement of representation that forms attorney-client confidentiality. Neither of these two events can occur in this forum. Mr. Rafter is licensed to practice in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the US Federal Courts in Virginia. His answers to any Avvo question are rooted in general legal principles--NOT your specific state laws. There is no implied or actual attorney-client relationship arising from this education exchange. You should speak with an attorney licensed in your state, to whom you have provided all the facts before you take steps that may impact your legal rights. Mr. Rafter is under no obligation to answer subsequent emails or phone calls related to this or any other matter.


  5. I read your comments, unfortunately your story didn't seem to be an indictment of the felony murder rule, but more so potential problems that happened with your case. The felony murder rule works in that the underlying crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no set rule or diagram as to what must be proven to meet this standard. You stated that there was only one witness and that witness was not credible...unfortunately it seems the jury found this person credible...they are the ultimate judge as to what evidence meets the standard.

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