Felony/Murder Rules in Los Angeles
When it comes to murder cases, there are a number of different ways and theories that the prosecutors can use in order to file a murder charge against somebody. It’s not just necessarily what you might customarily think a murder is – where somebody plans on killing another person, they execute that plan and then a death results. There are other ways that the prosecutors can charge an individual with murder. This is where the felony/murder doctrine comes in.
Another way that a murder can be charged and that I’ve seen and defended over the course of the last twenty-five years of practicing criminal defense in Los Angeles is if somebody in the course of a felony ends up killing another person, or even somebody else kills another person in the course of that felony. If you or anybody else decides that they’re going to commit a serious felony – for example, they’re going to try to commit a robbery and try to steal somebody’s watch, and during the course of that somebody dies in some way – and it’s foreseeable that that could happen when you try to steal somebody’s watch that they value and you try to use force and fear to do that – under the felony/murder doctrine, even though you weren’t intending to kill anybody, but you were trying to steal somebody’s watch and use force and violence to do it, they can get you for murder if they can prove all the elements of the robbery and they can show that a death resulted and that your actions were the probable cause, and the probable consequence of that particular death.
This gets very scary, because obvious murder is the highest crime known to man, so once you start using different theories to get people for such a serious crime where you could be facing fifteen to life, twenty-five to life or even more depending on exactly what all the offenses are that you end up getting convicted of – you realize how serious the felony/murder doctrine is. Another example that I’ve seen illustrated is somebody goes to commit a robbery – for example, in a store and guns are pulled out, maybe the clerk in the store pulls out a gun and fires, and then an innocent bystander like a customer for example gets hit – even though you didn’t intend to kill anybody, you just had the gun so you could effectuate the robbery – it’s foreseeable when you go and use deadly force and you have a gun and people could also have a gun – it’s foreseeable that somebody would be killed and if they do you’re likely going to be charged with murder pursuant to the felony/murder doctrine especially in Los Angeles, where the prosecutors and judges hate people who use guns to commit crimes, because it gives them such a serous advantage over other people and it’s much more likely that a death or serious bodily injury is going to result because of the fact that the person has used a weapon. It’s not just robberies that can trigger the felony/murder rule in LA. Drive-by shootings is another thing we see all the time. You know if you’re shooting, it’s likely someone’s going to get hit even though you may be aiming at another gang member, you end up hitting an innocent bystander, they’re going to get you if you kill somebody under the felony/murder doctrine because it’s likely if you’re firing guns on the city streets somebody’s going to get hit – someone’s going to die.
So, really what you need if you’re charged with a murder based on the felony/murder rule, you need an expert who has done these types of cases before, because not every case triggers the felony/murder doctrine. There are defenses to the felony/murder doctrine being triggered and there are arguments that can be made. Sometimes you can argue, no it wasn’t foreseeable that this was going to happen. No, this murder should have never happened, and I shouldn’t be responsible for it because I didn’t plan it and I really didn’t foresee that this was going to happen based on the circumstances of the case. So, there are all sorts of arguments that can be made, but obviously to have the most success you’re going to want to have an attorney who has been down this road before, who’s had success, who knows how to defend a murder charge, because there’s a very small list of attorneys that have the skills, the knowledge and are battled-tested in LA county to be able to go against the best prosecutors, the best robbery homicide division of the LAPD, the sheriff’s department. They’re going to pull out all the stops. They’re going to use all the resources and money that they had in order to convict somebody if a death occurred, so you better have an attorney that’s got the skills, the ability, the know-how and the experience to challenge them – and if they have weak case and they shouldn’t be able to prove a murder charge against you – that attorney is going to have to have the ability to get that case dismissed.
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