What are your thoughts on the felony murder rule?

I have a cousin, “Isaac,” about the same ages me, who has been in jail since we were 25 and will probably die there. The reason is pretty stupid. When we were young, Isaac needed money to impress some girl and so agreed to be the getaway driver in a robbery; He insists that he only agreed to drive the car and was not armed, and it is verifiable that he did not enter the convenient store in question. Things went south. One of the other robbers — who, unlike Isaac, actually went inside the store — shot the clerk on duty. The man died. Soon Isaac and his two cohorts were arrested and although only one shot was fired, all three were convicted of murder. And thus Isaac has spent the last quarter century in prison.

Recently I related the above story to a kid I know, about the same age now that Isaac was way back then. Surprisingly, she was sympathetic to Isaac. She does not believe that his role in the crime warranted even a murder conviction, much less a functional life sentence. I tend to disagree. To me, it seems that the principal under which Isaac was convicted — the felony murder rule — is just. If you are going to participate in a crime in which there is the threat of violence, you are no less guilty of any on suing homicide than a person who actually pulls a trigger.

But maybe that is just me. Thoughts?

I agree with the principle behind felony murder law as well.

I fully support the felony murder rule.

Remember Willie Horton, who claims he never killed or raped anyone?

In my state, Ohio, felony murder is not a thing. There is involuntary manslaughter, which seems more appropriate to Isaac’s situation. I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t know all the details of Isaac’s case. But what if he didn’t even know his accomplices were armed? Or he thought their guns weren’t loaded, just for show? Involuntary manslaughter seems to fit better and doesn’t carry a life sentence.

Horton was originally convicted of first-degree murder. Not felony murder. So his case is not really relevant.

What kind of idiot attempts robbery without being armed?

Depending on the laws of the state, he could still be charged with murder if one of the robbers was killed by the store owner/employee.

I support the felony murder rule too.

I think it’s a hard sell to say that in every felony crime where someone is murdered that all conspirators to the crime must be charged with murder. I think they can be charged with murder, but it shouldn’t be a statutory requirement. Mitigating circumstances and all that.

P.S. I don’t know what the current law in the US is regarding this.

Felony murder is ludicrous. That getaway driver’s role in the crime was much less than the actual shooter’s. Isaac should have gotten a very light sentence.

My concern is more with sentencing and parole/rehabilitation. If these were the circumstances, why is he still in prison 25 years later, and why do you think he will probably die there?

It’s not mandated today (at least AIUI). Prosecutors have the discretion to choose a lesser charge if they wish.

I support it, but I’d feel better about it if our prison system was geared more toward rehabilitation than punishment.

It makes a kind of sense if you consider there is little difference between perpetrating violence and being totally cool with facilitating violence–the only difference is opportunity. Removing from society someone who is totally cool with facilitating violence is a good thing. What happens to them afterward is where things get screwy, but that’s not what this thread is about.

Really? Isaac was cool with being part of a robbery. A man was killed as part of that robbery and, if I read the OP correctly, Isaac did his job and drove them away. He was an active part of crime that resulted in a man being killed.

He played an active role, no doubt. But was his role equal to the guy that actually pulled the trigger?

They might have told Isaac they didn’t have weapons but they were going to claim they did. Who knows? I assume in reality Isaac knew about the guns, but was confident they would not be used. That’s dumb. But I don’t know if it’s murder dumb.

I don’t see how you can separate the question from sentencing. The circumstances can vary widely. It seems like a good idea for the charge to be available for cases that warrant it; but that there should be leeway for a lesser charge or a lesser sentence & earlier parole where appropriate.

What about someone who hires a hitman to murder a third party? Should they get a lesser sentence than that of the hitman? After all, their role in the murder was much less than that of the actual shooter.

Should Isaac also have gotten a light sentence for his role in the robbery? Perhaps no sentence at all? After all, he didn’t really participate in the robbery, did he? He was just waiting outside to drive his friends away after the robbery was all done.

Would it have made a difference if they walked into the store unarmed and simply beat the clerk to death with their bare hands?

Of course not. The person who hired the hitman was the instigator of the murder.

This is why we have courts instead of algorithms.

Hiring a hitman is a first-degree murder charge (as well as conspiracy). It doesn’t depend on the concept of felony murder.

Felony murder is broader, it encompasses accomplices or co-conspirators who played a part in the act as a whole, even if there was no prior plan to kill anyone and they played no direct part in the murder. The getaway driver is a typical example.