What is the Felony Murder Rule in SC?

What is the felony murder rule in SC?

Did you know that you can be convicted of murder – and sentenced for murder – even if you did not kill the person yourself? Even if you did not intend for anyone to die? It’s called the felony murder rule – if you participate in the commission of a felony and someone is killed, you can be found guilty of murder. How does that work?

Yesterday, supporters of President Trump including white supremacists (one prominently featured in selfies taken by the rioters was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Camp Auschwitz” above a picture of an SS death’s head) broke into the nation’s capital, fought with police, and caused considerable property damage.

Some stole items from the Capital building while others smashed windows and damaged property. Four people died during the incident, including one who was shot by Capitol police. Is every person who broke into the nation’s capital yesterday – committing felonies in the process – now guilty of felony murder?

What is the Felony Murder Rule?

In SC, murder, or homicide, is the unlawful killing of another person with malice aforethought.

Murder, in SC, requires proof of a specific intent – malice aforethought. I pick up a pistol, I point it at someone, and I pull the trigger. At some point, before I pulled the trigger, I knew that it was likely to kill or seriously injure the person; therefore, I had the intent to kill.

Malice aforethought could mean:

  • The intent to kill,
  • The intent to cause someone serious harm, or
  • Reckless indifference to human life.

SC law, however, also permits “malice aforethought” to be proven by the intent to commit a felony. If you intended to commit a felony, and someone is killed during the commission of that felony, you can now be convicted of murder even if you did not intend to kill anyone and even if it was someone else who caused the victim’s death.

Inherently Dangerous Crimes

The rule only applies to felonies – crimes that are inherently dangerous and, therefore, the defendant should have known that it could have resulted in someone’s death. Examples include:

Examples of the Felony Murder Rule

What if you agree to be the “lookout” while your friend breaks into someone’s house to steal valuables?

They enter the house. You were sure no one was home, and therefore no one would be hurt. You stand outside at the vehicle, you don’t enter the home, and you don’t take any items from the home. You hear a gunshot before your friend runs from the house to the car and jumps in…

If it turns out that your friend shot and killed someone inside the house, you may be guilty of murder even though you never entered the home, you didn’t take any items from the home, you had no clue that someone would be hurt, and you never held a weapon in your hand…

What if you rob a convenience store with your friend? You agree in advance that there will be no weapons, and no one will get hurt. You walk into the store and pretend to have a gun in your pocket as you demand the money from the cash register, just as your crazy friend pulls out a gun and starts firing.

You had no intention of hurting anyone, much less killing someone. You didn’t have a weapon, and your codefendant’s actions were completely unexpected. Yet, you may now be found guilty of murder under the felony murder rule because you did have the intent to commit an armed robbery and someone died during the commission of that robbery.

Is Every Person Who Broke into the Nation’s Capital Yesterday Guilty of Felony Murder?

Setting aside the federal charges that may be brought against the rioters at the nation’s capital yesterday, what would happen to them if they were charged under SC state laws?

Four people were killed as a mob of President Trump’s supporters broke into the halls of Congress, including one who was shot and killed by Capitol Police:

The woman was shot earlier Wednesday as the mob tried to break through a barricaded door in the Capitol where police were armed on the other side. She was hospitalized with a gunshot wound and later died.

D.C. police officials also say two pipe bombs were recovered, one outside the Democratic National Committee and one outside the Republican National Committee. Police found a cooler from a vehicle that had a long gun and Molotov cocktail on Capitol grounds.

The other three deceased died “in medical emergencies,” whatever that means.

Would every person who participated in the riot be considered guilty of felony murder under SC law?

Let’s just take just one potential criminal violation for example – burglary. Every one of them entered the building without consent and with the intent to commit crimes inside and could hypothetically be convicted of burglary (a felony offense) under SC law.

During the commission of the burglary, at least one death occurred that was directly related to the violent attempts to enter the building and resistance by law enforcement.

That’s felony murder, at least under SC law.

Whether it is felony murder under DC law is a question best left to DC practitioners (do the crimes committed qualify for felony murder under DC law and can you be charged with felony murder under DC law if a police officer fired the fatal shot?), but it is possible

Charleston, SC Criminal Defense Lawyer

Charleston, SC criminal defense attorney Grant B. Smaldone represents people charged with crimes in SC state and federal courts.

If you have been charged with a crime or believe that you are under investigation in the Charleston, Georgetown, or Myrtle Beach areas of SC, call now at (843) 808-2100 or send an email to schedule a free consultation.