I am writing this to solicit opinions from the various and sundry out there in the proverbial peanut gallery. We are currently studying homicide in Criminal Law, and I have been confronted with a quandry, it regards the crime of Felony Murder.
I am sure all of you know (perhaps from watching Law & Order) that homicide is the killing of another. There are many different kinds of homicide, depending on the degree of culpability of the killer, and the most obvious degree imposed is the difference between Murder and Manslaughter. Murder requires intent, at varying degrees, and Manslaughter does not. That there are differing degrees of intent that one can have, we also have different degrees of murder, IE 1st degree, 2nd degree, 3rd degree murder. The higher the degree, the greater the intent required. This is all relatively self evident (and admittedly simplified). the reasons for the distinctions are obvious - it goes to punishment (we punish more severe crimes more severely).
There is one special exception to Murder: Felony murder is when the felon kills someone in the course of committing another, unrelated felony. That means that if you're robbing a bank, your intent is only to rob the bank. but if you kill someone (accidentally, inadvertently, watever) during the commission of the felony, you are guilty of felony murder. The affect of this is to remove the requirement for specific intent (in other words, the commission of the underlying felony, eg robbing the bank, replaces the requirement to otherwise prove intent to kill).
Some states call felony murder "1st degree murder". others call it "2nd degree murder". 3 states have abolished the rule altogether, and a few others have greatly limited it. I'd be happy to give a more detailed history later if you want, but for now, I want to know what you think of the general rule.
a good illustration of this is the following (this is an actual case, much abbreviated of course):
a man commits a burglary. while fleeing from the scene, he causes a car accident killing the driver of the other car. he's convicted of felony murder.
so tell me, is this rule just? is it fair? remember, the guy above could still be convicted of a lesser homicide crime, and certainly of burglary.