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The Felony Murder Doctrine: Florida’s Harsh Sentencing Rules

A recent Florida case of a young man requesting clemency from his life sentence is bringing to the forefront an important legal doctrine that put him there in the first place. The young man is serving a life sentence for lending his car to group of his friends; while the young man slept in his home, his friends used his car to burglarize the home of a young woman, who ultimately was killed as a result. The legal doctrine that may permit the life imprisonment of this young man is known as the felony murder doctrine.

First Degree Murder and Felony Murder Doctrine

In Florida, first degree murder requires that the defendant have specific intent to take the life of another in a premeditated fashion. However, the felony murder rule follows that a defendant may be charged with first degree murder without the requisite intent to kill someone if, during the commission of a specific type of crime, someone dies during its perpetration.

Reasoning Behind the Felony Murder Doctrine

The reasoning behind the felony murder rule is to deter many would-be criminals from committing specific types of crime because, if someone does die, they would be responsible for first degree murder. However, only specific crimes, such as arson, sexual battery, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, etc. (among others) will invoke the felony murder rule because they are the types of crimes that are inherently dangerous and it would be reasonable to assume that there would be a high likelihood of death as a result of perpetrating the crime. According to statistics put forth by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 16 percent of homicides occurred during felonies in 2006. Also, almost 80 people have been sentenced to the death penalty as a result of the felony murder rule though they were not personally responsible for the victim’s murder.

Felony Murder Rule Applies to All Accomplices, Regardless of Their Role

The felony murder rule, however, does not only apply to the person whose actions directly caused the death of the victim. In Florida, the felony murder rule can apply to any member of the conspiracy who aided in the commission of the crime. In the case of the young man serving life in prison for lending his car to his friends, he was found to be accomplice to the murder even though he was not actually present at the site of the crime. The prosecutor in this case successfully established that the provision of the car was the key to the commission of the crime; as the prosecutor put it, “no car, no crime.”

Advocates for Felony Murder Doctrine

Many advocates of the felony murder rule believe that the felony murder rule functions as a deterrent to many to keep from committing notoriously dangerous crimes. The specific crimes mentioned above are of the type that are considered dangerous and it would be reasonable to suspect that someone may be seriously injured or killed during the commission of the crime. Therefore, having the felony murder doctrine deters many from considering the initial crime in the first place if they fear being charged with the death of another, even if it is not by their own hands.

Opponents of the Felony Murder Rule

Opponents, however, believe statistics do not back up the notion that felony murder deters. They debate that most criminals are unaware of the felony murder doctrine, and that unintentional acts are impossible to deter. Statistics from the University of Chicago found that the felony murder rule between 1970-1998 only reduced deaths during burglaries and car thefts by a marginal number, death during rape did not change, and death during robberies actually increased.

Criminal Defense Attorneys in Fort Lauderdale

The felony murder doctrine is applied harshly in Florida, more so than any other states that have maintained the rule. Because of its expansive interpretation, anyone deemed to be an accomplice, regardless of his/her role in the commission of the crime, may be found guilty and sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. It is important to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik to ensure that the law is applied fairly and justly. Contact the Law Offices of Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation.

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