Understanding the new felony murder rule in Illinois

On Behalf of | Jan 7, 2022 | Felonies |

The law is changing all the time. It is no small task keeping up with the changes that occur in every area of law from one year to the next.

Illinois lawmakers have drafted nearly 300 new laws and changes to existing legislation, according to NBC Chicago online. These legal changes involve everything from permitting and licensing of lemonade stands to a minimum wage increase. In the realm of criminal law, one of the most important legal changes to be implemented is the change to Illinois’ longstanding felony murder rule.

What is the current felony murder rule in Illinois?

The current felony murder rule comes from the Illinois statute covering murder: 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3). In this statute, there are three ways to incur a first-degree murder conviction when someone is killed by your actions:

  1. Intending to kill the person, or intending great bodily harm by your actions
  2. Knowing that your actions would result in a killing or great bodily harm
  3. Committing or intending to commit a forcible felony (other than second degree murder)

It is this third provision in the statute that is called “felony murder.” If someone dies as a result of your committing a forcible felony, that person’s death will result in first-degree murder charges against you even if you had no intention of or knowledge that your actions would result in someone’s death.

Changes in Illinois law

As discussed by Restore Justice Illinois and many others, the primary change to the felony murder rule limits the law to instances where the accused actually participates in the action that causes the death of the victim.

Here is a hypothetical scenario:  John and Jane commit a burglary of a liquor store. To defend the store, the liquor store owner pulls out his revolver and shoots at John and Jane, accidentally killing an innocent bystander.

Under the current felony murder rule, John and Jane could be charged with first-degree murder for the killing of the innocent bystander. Under the pending rule, they could no longer be convicted for that killing, since they were not the direct cause of the killing.

What do these changes mean for Illinois?

The old law was extremely broad, among the broadest of any state with a felony murder on the books. Including a killing that the accused neither intended nor directly caused into the definition of first-degree murder is extremely broad.

The new law limits the possibility of first-degree murder under the felony murder rule to only those deaths directly caused by one of the actors in the underlying felony.

It is important to note that, any felony murder situation that occurs before the new law takes effect will still be prosecuted under the old rule. If you or a loved one are facing felony murder charges or other related criminal charges, or have already been convicted and are seeking to appeal or post-conviction relief, call attorney Darryl A. Goldberg to discuss your options and defense.


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