What is New York’s Felony Murder Rule?

Jason Goldman
February 23, 2024

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In its most basic sense, New York’s felony murder rule comprises a scenario whereby, in the course of a felony, a homicide occurs. With certain prerequisites, the individual who had committed the underlying felony may also be charged with the resulting homicide.

New York Penal Law 125.25(3) officially defines this charge: a person is guilty of murder in the second degree when, in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempted commission of (name of felony charged) [or of immediate flight therefrom], that person [or another participant if there be any] causes the death of a person other than one of the participants.

When is Someone Charged with Felony Murder?

Not every homicide that stems from the commission of a felony will trigger this charge. Rather, as the statute continues: A death caused in the course of the commission or attempted commission of (specify name of crime) is “in furtherance of” the commission or attempted commission of that crime when there is a logical nexus, that is, a logical link between the commission or attempted commission of that crime and the death, and the death was not just coincidental to the commission or attempted commission of that crime.”

Hence, there must be some sort of logical nexus, link, or connection between the felony and the resulting homicide in order to make out this charge.

What Felonies Trigger a Felony Murder Charge?

While there is not an all-inclusive list of underlying felonies, a classic fact pattern is observed where an individual and a co-conspirator are charged with carrying out an armed, gunpoint robbery. During the commission of this felony, one of the individuals uses the firearm to not only threaten the robbery victim but actually ends up shooting and killing the victim during the robbery. In this case, the other co-conspirator, who did not carry a gun and did not fire any sort of weapon will also be charged with the resulting homicide.

In this situation, as well as many others under New York’s Felony Murder rule, the co-conspirator who is also charged with a homicide despite being unarmed will need to show that the events were so unforeseeable or so attenuated from the original felony that he or she cannot be held liable for the murder.

Sentencing & Penalties when Facing Felony Murder Charges

Being convicted of felony murder carries the same sentence and penalty as that of a standard murder in the second degree charge. Indeed, as described above, New York’s felony murder rule is covered by Penal Law 125.25(3), which is a subsection of second degree murder.

Hence, being charged with felony murder in New York carries a substantial sentencing of up to 25-to-life if convicted.

Possible Defense Strategies Against Felony Murder Charges

There are two critical strategies that your defense attorney should employ if you are charged pursuant to New York’s felony murder rule.

From a Legal Standpoint

First, from a legal standpoint, New York’s felony murder rule is ripe for pretrial challenges whereby a defense attorney can and should motion for a dismissal when the resulting homicide is completely unforeseeable as it relates to the underlying felony. Indeed, overzealous prosecutors will use the felony murder umbrella to stretch the limits of the law, and defense attorney’s can poke holes at this ambitious charge by having a Judge carefully inspect the evidence alongside precedent.

From a Factual Standpoint

Second, from a factual standpoint, an experienced defense attorney will also look to show that the individual who was not the primary actor did not have any knowledge or foresight that the homicide would take place. While this in and of itself will not necessarily lead to an instant dismissal, lack of knowledge can and should be used in conjunction with other factors to show that it was not within the ‘logical nexus’ that a homicide would result from the charged felony.

How to Find the Right Felony Murder Attorney

When looking for the right felony murder attorney, an individual should find a lawyer with a strong appellate practice who is experienced with the law in this particular area. As mentioned above, felony murder charges are ripe for pretrial dismissal if proper motions are put forth to the Court. Moreover, you should seek out an attorney who has handled murder trials where numerous co-defendants have been charged under one indictment. Having a lawyer who knows how to handle issues surrounding co-defendant trials will be critical in a felony murder case.

Handle Felony Murder Charges with the Law Offices of Jason Goldman

If you have been charged pursuant to New York’s felony murder rule, it is pivotal that you have a lawyer ready to put up an aggressive, savvy defense at both the pretrial and trial stage. This charge carries great sentencing exposure and most prosecutors will look to push the limits under this broad statute. Contact us today for a consultation.