By that theory one could get Capitol punishment if running from the police in a drug deal gone bad followed by a car wreck or the police shot one of the felons.
A more extreme example, a shoplifter steals (whatever the felony limit is) and is accidentally run over fleeing the scene. The person who dropped them off (and is an accomplice ) gets murder one?
Usually, the law provides that the death must be a reasonably foreseeable consequence. For example, the Kansas felony murder statute (KSA 21-5402(a)(2)) defines it as “the killing of a human being committed … in the commission of, attempt to commit, or flight from any inherently dangerous felony.” There’s a list of what constitutes an inherently dangerous felony in the statute: assault, armed robbery, rape, arson, burglary, child abuse, etc. Moreover, the case law in Kansas (see, e.g., State v. McClelland [PDF]) says there has to be a direct causal connection between the crime and the death. Assuming the person who ran down the shoplifter wasn’t part of the crime but an unrelated third party, that would be an intervening event that breaks the chain of causality, so at least here, no, the shoplifter’s accomplice would not be convicted of felony murder.
In the case of State v. Sophophone, the Kansas Supreme Court decided that a felon was not responsible, could not be responsible, for the lawful acts of a police officer who shot and killed a co-defendant, so felony murder did not apply there either. Other jurisdictions, however, may take a different approach.
I am a believer in law-and-order. But this is the sort of silly reasoning that gives a bad name to us law-and-order types.
The perp did something bad. Instead of serving five years in prison you think it “fair” that he serve 20 years due to facts that from his perspective were random chance? If Eric Garner had an accomplice also selling cigarettes, should he have been charged with murder? There was a death — the cops killed his friend Eric.
I’m not asking for the letter of the law to be explained. I just point out that “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” exalts flippancy over reason.
The felony murder doctrine generally doesn’t apply to non-violent crimes. It also generally doesn’t apply to non-felonies. So you’d have a pretty tough time indicting a hypothetical accomplice to Garner for murder.
Every jurisdiction is different, but often the test goes something like, “if I participate in this violent felony is there a reasonable chance that somebody could die?” Armed robbery passes that test, selling unlicensed cigarettes doesn’t. I mean, unless you count lung cancer.
In many states at least, burglary constitutes a credible threat in and of itself, no matter what the felons intend. In that sense, lethal force can be employed even against unarmed, allegedly non-threatening burglars.
My (non-common law) jurisdiction does not recognize the felony murder doctrine, but I understand the reasoning behind its application if the felony results in an unintended death of a victim, bystander, police officer, etc.
Yet I fail to comprehend why it should be applied re: a death of someone who commits said felony. Unless one has actually coerced another person into participating, why should they bear any responsibility when that person is legally killed in the course of the crime or dies from other non-punishable causes? Under the legal definition, the victim’s identity and role in the felony might technically be irrelevant, but what interests are being protected and what purpose served by such interpretation?
You are driving down the road at a safe speed, paying normal attention. I and my worst enemy are on the sidewalk. Suddenly, I push my enemy in front of your car. There is no way for you to stop in time, and you hit my enemy and kill him.
The interests of society at large, which wants to discourage people from participating in violent crimes, even as a mere accomplice, and to make it clear that all participants bear responsibility for any consequences of that crime. Not everyone agrees with that idea, obviously, but that’s the justification used.