After our American independence, several of the new states initiated legislative reforms to codify the crime of murder. One of the first states to do so was Pennsylvania. In 1794, that state enacted a homicide degree statute that divided murder into capital murder in the first degree and murder in the second degree. The Pennsylvania legislature restricted the penalty for felony murder by imposing capital punishment only for felonies such as those that occurred in arson, rape, robbery, or burglary. The statute further provided that any murder in the state other than that committed in the perpetration of one of the common law felony offenses specified in its grade statute must be murder in the second degree.

Later, the felony of kidnapping was added to the list of specified felonies for the purpose of committing a crime of murder. Only first degree murder served as the basis for the hanging. The Pennsylvania statute did not actually formulate a felony murder rule or define the elements of murder. Instead, the statute identified participation in certain felonies as a qualifying element that aggravated responsibility for homicide. The statute prescribed that:
Any homicide that is committed with poison, stalking, or any other type of voluntary, deliberate and premeditated homicide, or that is committed in the commission or attempted commission of any arson, rape, robbery, or robbery, will be considered murder in the first place grade; and every other kind of murder will be murder in the second degree.

The implication of the statute is that murder in the course of one of the listed crimes did not require willful, deliberate, and premeditated murder. The language of the statute does not suggest that the mere cause of death in the course of any crime was always murder. This idea is much more in line with what Lord Hale was proposing in his writings in the late 17th century and is similar to Judge Stephen’s jury instruction in the Serne case: that it would be murder only if the criminal act was known to be task. dangerous to life and likely to cause death. The word “tried” in the statute implies the notion that a judge or jury could weigh the facts of the case and decide whether a defendant’s conduct warranted a murder charge for which the defendant could be hanged.

The Pennsylvania statute was enormously influential and shaped the homicide reform statutes in two-thirds of the existing states during the 19th century. Twelve states adopted the Pennsylvania classification scheme with little or no modification, the states that adopted the Pennsylvania statute as drafted were: Virginia in 1796, Kentucky from 1798 to 1801, Maryland in 1810, Louisiana since its admission in 1812 to 1855, Tennessee in 1829, Michigan in 1838, Arkansas in 1838, New Hampshire in 1842, Connecticut in 1846, Delaware in 1852, Massachusetts in 1858 and West Virginia, entering the Union with such statute in 1863.

Nineteen other states adopted a somewhat modified classification scheme. The states that adopted Pennsylvania statute with a somewhat modified classification scheme were: Ohio in 1815, Maine in 1840, Alabama in 1841, Missouri in 1845, Iowa in 1851, Indiana in 1852, California in 1856, Texas in 1858, New York in 1860, Kansas (entering the Union with such law in 1861), Oregon in 1864, Nevada (entering the Union with such law in 1864), Nebraska in 1873, Montana (entering the Union with such law in 1889) , Washington (entering the Union with such law in 1889), Idaho (entering the Union with such law in 1890), Wyoming (entering the Union with such law in 1890), North Carolina in 1893 and Utah (entering the Union with such a law in 1890) such a law in 1896).


The first true felony manslaughter rule statute was passed in Illinois in 1827. The Illinois statute defined murder as unlawful manslaughter with express malice, or acting with knowledge that the acts will or are likely to result in death or serious bodily injury, and serious homicide. The statute added that an “involuntary manslaughter … in the commission of an unlawful act that, in its consequences, naturally tends to destroy the life of a human being, or is committed in the prosecution of criminal intent … will be considered and tried as murder. ” Again, we see the influence of Lord Hale and not Lord Coke. The Illinois statute is a true felony murder statute. However, it is not a strict liability statute in the sense that it limits liability for an involuntary murder in the course of a felony that “tends to destroy the life of a human being.” It is not applicable to all serious crimes. Hale thought it would be murder only if the criminal act was known to be life-threatening and likely to cause death.

In 1829, a law promulgated in New Jersey included within the homicide “committing or attempting to commit sodomy, rape, arson, robbery or trespassing, or any illegal act against the peace of this state, of which the probable consequence may be bloodshed … “During that same year, New York passed the most stringent of the new statutes for the felony murder rule. Its statute defined murder as murder “without any purpose to cause death, by a person involved in the commission of a serious crime.” By the end of the 19th century, nineteen states had adopted vastly different types of felony homicide statutes. These states were: Illinois in 1827), New Jersey in 1829, Georgia in 1833, Mississippi in 1839, Alabama in 1841, Missouri in 1845, Wisconsin in 1849, California in 1850, Texas in 1857, Minnesota (entering the Union with such law in 1858), Nevada (entering the Union with such law in 1864), Oregon in 1864, Nebraska in 1866, although repealing the law in 1873, Florida in 1868, Colorado (entering the Union with such law in 1876), Idaho and Montana (both entered the Union with such laws in 1889), and Utah (entered the Union with such laws in 1896).

The 20th century began when most states had various ways of defining the crime of homicide: attributing responsibility for homicide to implicit malice as well as a felony; preach responsibility for murder in dangerous felonies, sometimes referred to as enumerated felonies, or attribute responsibility for murder to any felony. Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, we continue to see American states define felony murder in the same way. The rise in felony murders in the United States had more to do with Pennsylvania’s 1794 murder classification statute than with Lord Coke’s notion in the 17th century that a death caused by an illegal act is murder. .

The felony murder rule in the United States has been broader than that used in England due to the combination of two concepts. One, the concept of felony homicide itself and the ways in which it can be defined by law and two, the concept of vicarious liability used to hold all co-conspirators responsible for the substantive crimes committed by any of the conspirators in the course of the execution of the crime. Illegal deal that may have led to the US felony rule.

Such a situation can occur when Bonnie and Clyde decide to rob the local liquor store and recruit Clyde’s brother, Buck, to take them to the liquor store, stay outside to act as a lookout and be their escape driver. Buck agrees. If during the robbery, the store clerk searches for his 38 revolver under the counter, causing Bonnie to shoot him with her submachine gun, but it misses and her bullets kill an innocent store customer, then Bonnie, Clyde, and Buck would be left. retained. responsible and each could be convicted of conspiracy to rob, armed robbery and felony murder. The felony murder rule was never applied in this way in England.

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