Skip to main content

Should California Restrict The Felony Murder Rule?

The entrance to the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa is shown ...

Photo by Angela Carone

Above: The entrance to the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa is shown in this undated photo.

Should California Restrict The Felony Murder Rule?


Abbie VanSickle, reporter, The Marshall Project


Several hundred people are estimated to be serving time in California prisons for murder even though they did not personally kill anyone.

They were convicted under the felony murder rule, which says a person involved in a serious felony that results in death may be charged with murder regardless of whether they intended to kill or knew a killing would take place.

Supporters of the felony murder rule say it helps deter people from committing serious felonies. Opponents say it has resulted in accomplices, lookouts and getaway drivers getting the same sentences as the actual killer.

A bill making its way through the state legislature would restrict the felony murder rule.

"We are carefully studying the scope of felony-murder. As currently written, the bill does not balance the devastation that comes from those who commit dangerous felonies such as robbery, rape and first-degree burglary that result in the killing of innocent victims. Along with the California District Attorneys Association, our office is actively working with the authors of SB 1437 to determine if there can be amendments to the bill that would be fair and keep the community safe," Tanya Sierra, public affairs officer for the San Diego County District Attorney, said in an email.

Abbie VanSickle, reporter for The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal justice system, breaks down the pros and the cons of the felony murder rule.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.