Recently, the governor of California signed a law that narrows their version of the felony murder law. Similar to Texas’s law of parties, California allowed accomplices to murder to be punished even if they were not present when the murder occurred. In Texas, chapter 7.02 of the Texas Penal Code provides that a party is responsible for the conduct of another if, during the attempt to commit one felony, a party to the conspiracy commits another felony, then all parties to the conspiracy are guilty even if they had no intent to commit the other felony. Thus, for example, two individuals conspire to rob a bank, but agreed that no weapons would be used. Actor A, unbeknownst to Actor B, enters the bank with a gun while Actor B sits in the getaway car. While inside, Actor A shoots and kills someone. In Texas, Actor B would be responsible for the murder just as Actor A is responsible.
California’s SB 1437 changes California law so now only those who actually committed murder, intended to murder, or aided in the murder itself can prosecuted for murder.
Four states, Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio have abolished felony murder from its penal code. In 2017, a court in Massachusetts narrowed the application of felony murder and required that the actor must have the malice required for murder.
In addition to Texas’s law of parties, felony murder in Texas punishes criminal acts despite the offender having no criminal intent to commit murder. For example, evading the police in a vehicle is a third-degree felony. If an individual is evading police in his vehicle, has no intent to harm anyone, but ends up in a collision and someone passes away from that collision, the offender would be charged with felony murder. Without any intent to commit murder, an individual could face life in prison just has someone who maliciously intends to murder.
Hopefully, Texas will follow suit and find the law of parties and felony murder should be narrowed and only applied to individuals who had the requisite intent to commit murder. If you have been charged or convicted in Texas of felony murder or under the law of parties, contact the Law Office of Dayna Jones to see if we can assist with your case.