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Felony Murder

Many people aren’t aware that they can be charged with murder even if they didn’t personally kill anyone. Felony murder makes this possible. If you’re committing another crime and someone else dies, you can be charged with felony murder. This article aims to provide information on California’s felony murder law and legal defenses to the charge.

California Senate Bill 1437

California Senate Bill 1437 was signed into law on September 30, 2018. This bill sets forth the new rules for California’s felony murder law, sometimes referred to as murder in the commission of a felony. Under SB 1437, any person who, in the commission of a felony or attempted felony (or is a major participant in the commission of a felony), commits one of the following acts can be charged with felony murder:

  • Kills a person
  • Acts with reckless indifference to human life
  • Aids and abets in first-degree murder with intent to kill
  • An on-duty law enforcement officer is killed in the commission of the felony

Crime scene tape This is a bit different from California’s old felony murder rule, which allowed a person to be arrested and charged with felony murder regardless of intent. If someone died during the commission of a felony, the people involved in the commission of the crime could all be charged with felony murder. This new bill narrows this law and requires something more than the fact that someone was killed, unless it’s an on-duty police officer.

Major Participant

The law states that a major participant in the commission of a felony can be charged with felony murder. So what exactly does major participant mean? There’s no true definition of major participant under the law, but the court analyzes several factors when determining if someone was a major participant, including the following:

  • The individual was the mastermind in terms of planning the crime
  • The individual purchased, gave, supplied, or stole weapons with the intent for them to be used in the crime
  • The individual was present when the murder occurred


In California, felony murder carries the same penalties as murder. The maximum penalties include 25 years to life in prison, life in prison without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty (although Governor Newsom did declare a moratorium on the death penalty in 2019).


If you find yourself charged with felony murder, it’s a good idea to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. When you find the right lawyer, they will have the knowledge and experience to defend you against this charge. Some common defenses to this crime include the following:

Didn’t Commit or Attempt to Commit a Felony

To be convicted of felony murder, one of the elements that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt is that you committed, attempted to commit, or were a major participant in committing a felony. It’s not surprising, then, that a common defense to felony murder is that the defendant didn’t commit or attempt to commit a felony. Even if the defendant was committing a different crime, felony murder only applies if there’s evidence that they were committing a felony.

Not a Major Participant

Worried man silhouette If you weren’t the one who committed or attempted to commit the felony, but you’re still being charged with felony murder, your lawyer will likely argue that you were not a major participant in the felony and therefore cannot be convicted of felony murder. If you weren’t at the scene of the crime, didn’t plan the felony, and overall just didn’t really have anything to do with planning or committing the crime, this is a good defense.

Contact Attorney William S. Kroger for Help

The felony murder rule can be a bit complicated, but it’s a charge you should take very seriously, as it carries the harshest penalties of any crime. If you were arrested or are being questioned by the police regarding a murder, you should contact a lawyer immediately. Attorney William S. Kroger is here to help. He has been practicing criminal law for decades and will do whatever it takes to defend you and get the best outcome for you that’s possible. He cares about your case as much as you do. Don’t hesitate to reach out for a free, confidential consultation. Set up a meeting by calling 323-655-5700 or by messaging the office today.

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