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Legislative movement on felony murder law in California

Reference to terms such as “intent” or “deliberation” often attaches to the crime of murder. A favored expression under traditional common law is “malice aforethought.”

There are many other descriptors as well. They all coalesce around the assumption that murder must link closely with an individual’s purposeful action to cause the death of another human being.

Notwithstanding the long-posited link between conscious intent and murder, however, a material disclaimer to that tie-in exists concerning another criminal charge.

Namely, that is felony murder, a crime that a recent ABA Journal article points out is recognized in 45 American states.

California is among them.

There has long been widespread criticism aimed against felony murder, for this reason: the charge can be applied to individuals who somehow participated in a crime yet had no intent personally to act in any manner resulting in third-party loss of life.

Put another way: That can include someone who was merely along for the ride when a driver emerged from a car and fatally shot another person.

In many instances, law in California and elsewhere does not distinguish between the shooter or the passenger. Both can be charged with murder.

That is patently unfair, say a growing number of California legislators who want to amend longstanding state law recognizing felony murder. A bill that seeks to do has already cleared the California State Senate. That legislation is now working its way through the State Assembly. The would-be law would eliminate felony murder as a criminal charge if it is passed.

Reportedly, as many as 800 individuals are currently imprisoned in California following felony murder convictions.

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