The 411 on Florida’s Felony Murder Law

“Murder” is a widely used and commonly applied word, especially in discussion of high-profile criminal cases. Based on the popular understanding of the crime of murder, you might think that anyone charged with murder is simply facing the consequences of having set out to unlawfully kill somebody (and having succeeded).
As our West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know, that belief is just not true. Florida’s so-called felony murder law, for instance, enables prosecutors to charge someone with murder even if they had no direct involvement in that person’s death.

As we will explore in this blog post, the Florida State Statutes can be truly unforgiving and sometimes outright unreasonable. According to state law, if someone is killed during the commission of a crime that you are a part of in any capacity, then depending on the crime being committed, you can be charged with murder.

That’s right; you read that correctly. As our West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert know, Florida’s felony murder rule states that anyone who is involved in any one of a list of certain crimes (including but not limited to arson, burglary, escape, kidnapping, carjacking, home-invasion robbery, and certain drug trafficking offenses) can be charged with first-degree murder if during the commission of that crime someone is killed (unlawfully). It doesn’t matter what each person’s involvement in the crime was; if they had any role in committing the crime, or attempting to commit the crime, they can be charged with murder.

When someone is unlawfully killed during the commission of one of the specific crimes detailed in s. 782.04, all individuals involved in committing or attempting to commit the crime have also committed a capital felony, murder in the first degree. Upon conviction, the defendants face either the death sentence or life imprisonment.

To help you wrap your head around this seemingly obtuse law, our West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers will provide an example of a seemingly shocking way in which, under Florida law, someone could find themselves charged with and convicted of murder.

For our first example, let’s consider a fictional young woman named Jane Smith. Jane’s criminal boyfriend, in this hypothetical example, has scared Jane into following his orders. One day, he makes Jane tell him when her elderly neighbor returns home from grocery shopping, so that he (her boyfriend) can rob the neighbor of his car. Reluctantly, Jane calls her boyfriend to tell him that her neighbor is unloading groceries in the driveway. The boyfriend rushes over to the neighbor’s home, pushes the man away from his car, and steals the car, thereby committing the crime of carjacking, detailed in s. 812.133 of the State Statutes. While speeding away in the car, the boyfriend swerves onto the sidewalk and hits someone, killing them. Because of Jane’s (early and limited) involvement in the crime of carjacking, and because someone died while that crime was being committed, she can be charged with murder and potentially sentenced to death.

That just doesn’t seem right. As our West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know, nobody in their right mind would argue that Jane did a good or proper or even reasonable thing by telling her boyfriend when her vulnerable, elderly neighbor would return home and thus be vulnerable to a carjacking. That said, does serving as a lookout for her boyfriend (so that he can steal a car) make her responsible for a death seen in the eyes of the law as a first-degree murder? In the eyes of many Floridians, hardly.

If you have any questions about this very harsh state law, or if you’ve been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County, please contact our criminal defense lawyers at Leifert & Leifert by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363). We look forward to assisting you.

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