Felony Murder Rule

It's always a good idea to be careful when reading about criminal cases in the news. Remember that the motives of the media are to inform the public, and also sell more newspapers. Reporters frequently only talk with the police and possibly a witness or two, meaning that they are often only getting one side of the story.

Moreover, our Constitution almost necessitates those accused of crimes not speak with the press because any well-advised criminal defendant would invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refuse to speak with the press. The facts as they are borne out before a jury in criminal court are infinitely more important than they are in the court of public opinion. Any savvy criminal defense attorney would only give a terse statement to the press usually professing his client's innocence.

Notwithstanding that long-winded disclaimer, this story that appeared in today's San Antonio Express News illustrates the convoluted Felony Murder Rule.

Texas Penal Code § 7.02 promulgates the Felony Murder Rule: (a) A person is criminally responsible for an offense committed by the conduct of another if: (1) acting with the kind of culpability required for the offense, he causes or aids an innocent or nonresponsible person to engage in conduct prohibited by the definition of the offense; (2) acting with intent to promote or assist the commission of the offense, he solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense; or (3) having a legal duty to prevent commission of the offense and acting with intent to promote or assist its commission, he fails to make a reasonable effort to prevent commission of the offense. (b) If, in the attempt to carry out a conspiracy to commit one felony, another felony is committed by one of the conspirators, all conspirators are guilty of the felony actually committed, though having no intent to commit it, if the offense was committed in furtherance of the unlawful purpose and was one that should have been anticipated as a result of the carrying out of the conspiracy.

The Felony Murder Rule does not only apply to murders; it applies to any felony crime. Basically, if a crime is committed, such as a drive-by shooting, and a group of people are present and are knowingly participating in the crime, the non-shooters can also be charged with murder by their involvement. This rule of law goes against the principle of only punishing individuals for their criminal behavior. The other two persons in the car alleged in the EN story, can also be charged with the same crime as the shooter, which in this case would probably be Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon, assuming (and hoping) that the victim in this case makes a recovery.

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