Standing Tall Between Your Future And The Judge’s Gavel

Second-degree murder and felony murder in Massachusetts

On Behalf of | Dec 23, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

Under Massachusetts law, any killing of another person is ordinarily classified as a homicide. This can include accidental killings, as when a defendant causes a car accident in which another person dies.

For the crime to be considered murder, the defendant ordinarily must have intended to kill the other person. Massachusetts law further distinguishes between first-degree and second-degree murder. Murder in the first degree is premeditated. Generally, murder in the second degree is intentional, but the defendant acted on the spur of the moment.

However, there are cases in which an apparently accidental killing may lead to a second-degree murder charge.

The felony murder rule

The term “felony murder” refers to a type of charge in which a person is charged with murder because they were involved in the commission of a felony in which another person was killed. Importantly, a defendant may be charged with felony murder even if they were not the person who killed the victim.

For example, imagine two men attempt a bank robbery, a felony crime. During the robbery, one of the men is getting cash from a teller when the other man shoots and kills a security guard. Both of the two men may be charged with felony murder.

In some cases, a person who was nowhere near the murder scene may be charged with first-degree murder if they were involved in any way with the commission of a felony along with the person who committed the murder. In some cases, people have been charged under the felony murder rule after they merely lent their cars to people who used it in the commission of a felony in which someone was killed.

Limits on the rule

Many states, including Massachusetts, have some variation of the felony murder rule.

In 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Court struck down some of the commonwealth’s felony murder rule. Today, prosecutors need some other justification in order to charge a person with first-degree murder

However, it’s still possible for Massachusetts prosecutors to charge a person with second-degree murder under the felony murder rule.

In the bank robbery example above, a third man who served as a getaway car driver might face second-degree murder charges under the felony murder rule.

Serious charges, serious defense

A person convicted of second-degree murder faces 15 years to life in prison. These are serious charges, and they require a serious defense strategy, with the help of experienced attorneys.