What is the Felony Murder Law in Illinois?

Murder is arguably the most serious crime our laws recognize.  So serious that many factors are considered when accusing someone of the crime, like motive, mental state, sanity, and instrumentality.  The severity of this crime is exemplified best in the Felony Murder law.  This law makes it possible to charge someone involved in committing a felony with murder if someone dies during the course of that felony crime, even if the person died accidentally or was killed by someone else.  This is an important rule of law to be aware of because the consequences are a matter of life and death.

Illinois Statutes

According to Illinois Law 720 ILCS 5/9-1, first degree murder is defines as the intentional killing of another person, the infliction of great bodily harm knowing it could lead to death, commits an act that has a strong probability of causing death or great bodily harm, or occurs during the perpetration of a forcible felony.

Illinois Law 720 ILCS 5/2-8 lists forcible felonies as sexual assault, robbery, burglary, arson, kidnapping, aggravated battery, and any other felony that involve the use of or threat of physical force or violence.

What this means is that you could be charged with first degree murder even if you don’t intend to kill anyone, but are involved in any of the crimes listed as a forcible felony.  A death sentence can follow a conviction of murder if certain aggravating factors exist.  Relevant to Felony Murder would be the killing of a police officer or fireman while on duty, actually killing a person while committing the felony, inflicting injuries along with other felons that caused a death, or committing an inherently violent felony.

Illinois Case Law

Along with law passed by the Illinois Legislature, the Illinois Supreme Court also defines the rules for the Felony Murder law.  Illinois follows the proximate cause theory, which means that a felon is held responsible for the foreseeable deaths that occur in the attempt or completion of a forcible felony.  This theory does not bode well for a felon because it carries possible liability for accidental deaths, innocent bystanders, and, most notably, the deaths of co-felons who may be killed by police during the felony.

This last scenario is the most disconcerting, but was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court in the cases of People v. Hudson and People v. Klebanowski.  In both of these cases, decided in 2006, the felons were charged with felony murder of a co-felon shot by off-duty police officers present at the time of the crime.  In Klebanowski, the defendant drove his friend around with a BB gun so that he could locate a person to rob.  The defendant dropped his friend off, heard shots, then drove off thinking that he had been shot.  His friend had been shot by an off-duty police officer he attempted to rob at gunpoint.  The defendant was charged with felony murder of his friend because he assisted in the perpetration of this crime.

This case should be a cautionary tale about the hard line Illinois draws when it comes to Felony Murder.  As with any encounter with the criminal justice system, it is best to call a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney to help you protect your rights and freedom.

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