Felony Murder

Have you Been Charged with Felony Murder in Georgia?

Felony murder, murder, first-degree murder, and second-degree murder are all terms that refer to the killing of another. However, without an experienced lawyer, these legal terms can seem overwhelming and impossible to distinguish. That is why you need an Attorney who is familiar with all of the murder crimes and knows the complexities of each one. Lawson and Berry and their team of Felony Murder Attorneys in Georgia have decades of experience and are here to help you with your case. Don't wait and try to figure it out on your own! It is crucial to your case to get help from the very beginning! Call us today if you or a loved one has received a felony murder charge. A charge is not the same as a conviction so let us work with you to develop a strong defense!

Georgia Law O.C.G.A. §16-5-1(c) reads as follows

A person commits the offense of murder when, in the commission of a felony, he or she causes the death of another human being irrespective of malice.

Overview of Felony Murder

Felony murder is a legal statute that expands the definition of murder. It occurs when someone commits a serious or inherently dangerous felony, and someone else dies during the course of committing or attempting to commit the felony. Felonies that are inherently dangerous include burglary, arson, rape, kidnapping, aggravated assault and cruelty to children. The Court has also extended the definition to include crimes such as possession of a weapon on school property and robbery. The reason these felonies are inherently dangerous is that they are all circumstances that create a foreseeable risk that death could occur. An example of felony murder is if Bob decided to rob a clothing store and accidentally killed the cashier during the robbery. Even though he did not intend to kill the clerk, he will be convicted of felony murder because of the mere fact that he was committing a felony (robbery) and someone was killed during the commission of the crime. Taking that example one step further, if Steven is the getaway driver for Bob, and Bob accidentally kills the clerk. Steven will also be charged with felony murder for his involvement in the crime.

As seen in the example, Georgia law does not take into consideration whether the death was intentional or accidental. There does not need to be intent to kill or even an expectation that someone will die once the felony is commenced. The defendant will be liable for the death either way.

Furthermore, a suspect could be charged with felony murder even though they are not the ones who killed the victim. Georgia statute O.C.G.A. §16-2-20 dictates when a person is a party to a crime. A person is concerned in the commission of a crime only if he:

  1. Directly commits the crime;
  2. Intentionally causes some other person to commit the crime under such circumstances that the other person is not guilty of any crime either in fact or because of legal incapacity;
  3. Intentionally aids or abets in the commission of the crime; or
  4. Intentionally advises, encourages, hires, counsels, or procures another to commit the crime.

Georgia also has expanded the felony murder definition to include victims that were not shot by the felons. Felony murder can apply even if a non-felon committed the murder. An example of this is if bank robbers go into a bank and the clerk says okay I will give you the money but then shoots through the bag and kills someone. Georgia will still say that it was felony murder even though the robbers were not the ones who pulled the trigger. In addition, Georgia applies felony murder if one of the people killed was a co-defendant. The victim can either be a random person or one of the perpetrators of the crime and any party involved in the commission of the crime, can still be charged with felony murder.  

Georgia Case Law on Murder

The case of Joyner v. State demonstrates how a co-defendant can be guilty of felony murder even though they were not the one who actually killed the victim. 280 Ga. 37, (2005). In this case, Defendant, Joyner, had a boyfriend who was talking to an acquaintance about going to “hit a lick” or committing robbery. Joyner knew they had selected 71-year-old bar owner as the victim because they believed he would have money. Joyner knew everything about the plan, and according to her, she knew everything that was going on. Joyner stopped by the acquaintance's house where he showed her and her boyfriend the gun he was bringing. She then drove them to the bar, but it was closed, so she drove them to the owner's house and dropped them off while she remained in the car. During the robbery, the victim was struck with something and received blunt-force trauma, which killed him. Joyner picked up her boyfriend and the acquaintance after and drove them away from the house.

During the trial, Joyner argued that she lacked the criminal intent necessary to commit the crime. However, the Court found under O.C.G.A. §16-2-20, Joyner was present and assisted in the commission of the crime by driving them around and knew what was going on. Therefore, she was convicted of felony murder.

Another case where the accused was found guilty of felony murder while attempting to commit armed robbery is Brockman v. State, 292 Ga. 707, (2013). The defendant, Brockman, conspired with three other people to rob a gas station because they believed the owner carried large amounts of money. Brockman drove up to the full-service station, and when the victim approached the car, Brockman told him to give him all the money. The victim refused to do so after multiple requests by Brockman and so Brockman shot the victim in the abdomen, killing him. The victim had $70 on his person at the time, but Brockman drove away without taking the money. During the trial, Brockman argued that armed robbery requires that there be a taking of property and he did not take anything from the victim so therefore, it could not be felony murder. However, the jury found there was sufficient evidence to support their finding not because Brockman was convicted of a criminal attempt to commit armed robbery but because Brockman was engaged in the commission of the armed robbery at the time that the murdered the victim. The murder was committed while Brockman was trying to rob the victim and so the jury convicted Brockman of felony murder.

What Has to be Proven?

To be convicted of felony murder in Georgia, the State must demonstrate that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This includes showing that the accused attempted or completed a felony that is deemed serious or inherently dangerous under Georgia law. Therefore, the State must show that all of the elements are present for the commission of the underlying felony.

Penalty for a Felony Murder Conviction in Georgia

In Georgia, the penalty for a felony murder conviction is either life in prison with or without parole or the death penalty.

Having a felony conviction can have severe consequences if you do not end up in prison or out on parole. It can effect you obtaining a job, getting a license, and prevent you from buying a firearm. The penalty for a felony murder conviction carries far beyond the actual prison sentence.

Defenses to Felony Murder in Georgia

The crime was not a felony: If the underlying crime was not a felony or one that is inherently dangerous, then your Attorney will seek for a lesser charge to be issued.

Insufficient evidence to support a conviction: There must be evidence to establish elements of the underlying felony in order to sustain a felony murder conviction. In the case of Prater v. State, the defendants were charged with felony murder based on armed robbery. 237 Ga. 477, (2001). However, the Court found that there was no taking or theft by use of force or intimidation, which is an essential element of robbery, and that they shot the employee before even entering the store. Therefore, a failure to prove that there was armed robbery forced the felony murder charge to be dropped as well.

The murder was independent of the felony: Felony murder occurs when a victim is killed during the commission of a felony. If the murder transpired before the felony or a significant time after the felony was committed, then your Attorney can seek for the felony murder charge to be dropped to a murder charge, which does not carry as significant penalties.

Death was not a foreseeable result: Georgia law states that the underlying felony must be one where death is a foreseeable result. If the crime was not one where one could reasonably see death resulting, then you could argue for your charge to be lowered.

Self-defense or Necessity: Self-defense is a tricky argument with regard to felony murder because you have to show that even though you committed a felony or were in the process of committing a felony, an event happened where you had no other choice but to kill the victim. The Law Office of Richard Lawson and his team of Felony Murder Attorneys can assist you if this applies to your case.

Alibi or Witness Testimony: If you have an alibi or any other testimony proving that you were not at the scene of the crime or that were an innocent bystander, that evidence will prove invaluable in court. Let your Attorney know immediately if this applies to you.

What are Not Defenses

There was no malice or intent to kill: Felony murder does not require that there be intent to kill. However, it does require that the defendant possesses the requisite criminal intent to commit the underlying felony. Holliman v. State, 257 Ga. 209 (1987). In other words, as long as you had the intent to commit the burglary and someone died as a result, you will be guilty of felony murder.

But the person who was killed was not the intended victim: A person who completes a felony or who is attempting to commit a felony is liable for any murder that results as result of the commission of that felony without regard to whether the person commits, intention to commit, or acted to commit the murder of the victim. Roberts v. State, 257 Ga. 180 (1987).

It was an accident: The Court has set a precedent that an accident cannot be a defense to felony murder. While accident could be a defense to the underlying felony, it will not be sufficient for a felony murder charge. Tessmer v. State, 273 Ga. 220, (2000).

I wasn't the one who killed the victim: For co-felons, states differ as to whether a co-defendant can be liable for the death of another even though they didn't kill the victim. However, Georgia takes the stand that any death that occurs during the commission of the felony will transfer to all of the co-felons. Therefore, it does not matter that you were not the one to kill the victim, you could still be charged and found guilty of murder.

The underlying felony was not completed; it was just an attempt: Even if the underlying felony was not completed and someone was killed, the accused could still be found guilty of felony murder. It does not matter that the felony was completed; what is important is that someone died during the attempt to commit an inherently dangerous felony. However, as seen above in Defenses, this could also be a defense if the underlying felony had not even begun. This is one of the reasons why it is crucial to have an Attorney who is knowledgeable and knows how to use the law for your benefit.

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