man arrested for felony murder

What to Know About Felony Murder in California

If you have ever intended to do one thing but did another you must still take responsibility for your actions. This was the belief of California’s old Felony Murder Rule. Under this rule, if someone died while you committed a felony, you could be charged with murder. 

This was irrelevant of whether the death was accidental or even if you were aware that it occurred. For instance, under the old rule if you decided to be the driver of the getaway car after someone else robbed a bank, but an old man in the store had a heart attack and died, you could be held responsible for his murder. But luckily the old rule is now just that: old. 

New Legislation

In 2018 the California Assembly passed new legislation rewriting the felony murder rule to make it more focused. While someone can still be charged with felony murder, the new legislation makes it less likely to experience prosecutorial abuse. 

Felony murder is treated the same as murder with similar penalties at stake, such as 25 years to life, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and the death penalty. (In March 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on the death penalty.)

Elements of Felony Murder in CA

Felony murder occurs when the following elements are met:

1. You attempt, participate, or commit a felony in any capacity. So before you can be convicted of felony murder you must first be convicted of a felony. These felonies include:

  • Robbery
  • Arson
  • Burglary
  • Kidnapping
  • Carjacking
  • Rape
  • Sodomy
  • Forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object
  • Lewd acts with a minor
  • Mayhem
  • Torture

2. You carry out one of the following:

  • You kill someone. 
  • You were a “major participant” in the crime and acted with “reckless indifference to human life.
  • You aid and abet in the commission of murder in the first degree with intent to kill. 
  • A peace officer was killed while performing their duties due to your actions. 


In order to be convicted of felony murder, you must have first committed a felony. Therefore if you are able to prove that you weren’t guilty of carrying out the felony and you weren’t a “major participant,” you can establish a defense against a charge of felony murder. While it can be difficult to defend against a felony murder charge, a knowledgeable and experienced California criminal defense attorney can make a big difference. 

The Law Office of Ronald L. Freeman Helps Those in California Who Have Been Charged with a Crime 

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in California, you should be sure to take it seriously. Such a charge can have tremendous life-long effects on you. That’s why it is so important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced San Bernardino and Riverside criminal defense attorney who understands criminal law and can help to walk you through the whole process. 

At the Law Office of Ronald L. Freeman, our San Bernardino and Riverside criminal defense attorneys will work to defend your freedom, collect proper evidence to help your case, and work hard to have the criminal charges against you dropped or reduced. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!