A felony murder is any murder which happens during the commission of another felony. Felony murders happen when a person is killed while the killer is committing a serious crime. The felony murder statute only applies when the murder was not originally intended.
Felony murder also includes instances when a person dies without the direct action of the killer. Felony murders can be charged if the victim falls down a flight of stairs when attempting to stop a burglar, but can also be charged if a bank manager suffers a fatal heart attack while a bank vault is being robbed. A case of sodomy, which is also known as deviant sexual intercourse, can result in a felony murder charge if the insertion of the foreign body causes sufficient internal injury so as to result in death of the person sexually violated.
The only lesser crime which is not considered as aggravating felony murder is assault. Assault is not a crime which can be included in felony murders because all murders involve assaults. A felony murder may occur in an assault case if the assault targeted one person but resulted in the death of a second.
Felony murders only occur during the commission of the felonies of rape, burglary, arson, robbery, sodomy, and escaping from jail. Federal statues expand felony murder to include terrorism, kidnapping, and carjacking. Felony murder may elevate a circumstance which would otherwise be considered a case of manslaughter to be considered a murder charge.
Felony murders make up the entirety of second degree murder charges in states which base their legal code on Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system. Pennsylvania-based criminal justice systems do not allow for specific felony-based murder convictions. Felony murder, as a legal concept, only exists in states which are based on New York’s codifications.
There is a related idea of misdemeanor manslaughter. This is a less severe degree of felony murder. While felony murders occur during the commission of serious and major crimes, known as felonies, misdemeanor manslaughters are deaths that occur during the violation of minor laws, called misdemeanors.