Felony Murder

There are 3 main murder charges in Michigan: First Degree Murder (also known as premeditated murder); Felony Murder; and Second Degree Murder. First Degree Murder and Felony Murder both carry as punishment life in prison without parole. Second Degree Murder carries the possibility of parole after many years in prison. To prove the crime of First Degree Murder beyond a reasonable doubt the prosecution must establish that:

1)      The victim died;

2)      The death was caused by the Defendant;

3)      The Defendant intended to kill the victim;

4)      The death was not justified, excused, or mitigated to manslaughter;

5)      The Defendant premeditated the victim’s death;

6)      The Defendant deliberated the victim’s death.

Second Degree Murder contains the same proofs, except for the requirements of premeditation and deliberation.    Premeditation means that the Defendant thought out the murder beforehand. Deliberation means that the Defendant considered the pros and cons of the killing and thought about his or her actions before he or she committed the murder. There must have been real and substantial reflection for long enough to give a reasonable person a chance to think twice about the intent to kill. The law does not say how much time is needed, and it is a question for the jury to decide if enough time passed under the circumstances of the case. The killing, however, cannot be the result of a sudden impulse without thought or reflection to constitute the crime of first degree murder. Premeditation and deliberation often occur when the Defendant is lying in wait (hiding him or herself and planning to take another person by surprise) or poisons the victim.

A homicide is justified if the Defendant acted in self defense, excused if the death was accidental, and mitigated if it was caused by adequate provocation. The prosecution does not need to disprove the justification, excuse, or mitigation unless the issue is raised by the defense. Of course, when a defense of self defense, accident, or provocation is raised by the defense the prosecutor is required to disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt and the trial court is required to instruct the jury as to these defenses.

Felony Murder occurs when the death occurs during the course or the attempted course of a felony offense. To prove the crime of Felony Murder beyond a reasonable doubt the prosecution must establish that:

First, the Defendant caused the death;

Second, the Defendant either intended to kill, intended to cause great bodily harm, or knowingly created a very high risk of death or great bodily harm knowing that death or such harm would be the likely result of his or her actions;

Third, when the Defendant did the act that caused the death, the Defendant was committing, or attempting to commit a specified felony;

Fourth, the killing was not justified, excused, or done under circumstances that reduce it to a lessor crime.

If the Defendant aided and abetted in the commission of the felony, this is enough to prosecute for Felony Murder if a death occurred as described above. A classic example is the getaway driver to an armed robbery which results in a death of a bank teller. Even though the driver did not shoot the teller, he or she likewise could be prosecuted for Felony Murder as well as Armed Robbery. When determining whether the act causing the death occurred while the Defendant was committing, attempting to commit, or assisting in the commission of a particular felony the jury considers the length of time between the commission of the felony and the murder, the distance between the scene of the particular felony and the scene of the murder, whether there is a causal connection between the murder and the particular felony, and whether the murder was committed during an attempt to escape.   If the Defendant intended to kill one person, but by mistake or accident killed another person, the crime is the same as if the first person had actually been killed under the doctrine of transferred intent.

Lessor offenses to Murder include: Voluntary Manslaughter (a 15 year maximum felony); and involuntary Manslaughter. Murder can be reduced to Voluntary Manslaughter if the Defendant acted out of passion or anger brought about by adequate cause and before the Defendant had a reasonable time to calm down. When the Defendant acted, his or her thinking must have been disturbed by emotional excitement to the point that a reasonable person might have acted on impulse without thinking twice and the killing itself must be the result of the emotional excitement.

Involuntary Manslaughter occurs when the death of the victim occurs due to the Defendant’s gross negligence, or during the course of an assault and battery, in which there was not a lawful excuse or justification for the death. Involuntary Manslaughter can also be alleged when there is a negligent failure to perform a legal duty causing death. Two common offenses involving involuntary manslaughter include: Involuntary Manslaughter – Intentionally Aimed Firearm; and Involuntary Manslaughter with Motor Vehicle.   Other involuntary manslaughter related driving offenses include: OUIL Causing Death, OUIN Causing Death, or Drunk Driving Causing Death (15 year maximum felony); Reckless Driving Causing Death (15 year maximum felony); Moving Violation in a Work Zone Causing Death (15 year maximum felony); Negligent or Careless Driving Causing Death (2 year maximum); Failure to Stop at the Scene of an Accident in which a Death Occurs (5 year felony); Failure to Stop at the Scene of Accident in which a Death Occurs and the Driver is at Fault (15 year felony). The penalties are the same regardless if the vehicle involved was an automobile, snowmobile, boat, airplane, or other vessel.  Convictions for the above referenced 15 year felonies often result in jail or prison sentences as well. Death offenses involving operating a motor vehicle will also result in the revocation of driving privileges.

Other miscellaneous homicide offenses include: Delivery of a Controlled Substance causing Death (Life maximum); Inciting Fighting Animals Resulting in Death (Life maximum); Throwing or dropping a Dangerous Object Causing Death (15 year maximum); Reckless Use of a Bow and Arrow Resulting in Injury or Death (2 year maximum). With any of these offenses it is important to immediately hire an excellent lawyer.


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