In Illinois, you can be charged with felony murder if a death results while you are committing a forcible felony other than second degree murder. For example, if you are robbing a store and your accomplice shoots the store owner, you can be charged with felony murder even though you were nowhere near the gun. Felony murder is a form of first degree murder.

A recent Illinois court decision examined the felony in felony murder. Can you be charged with felony murder if the underlying felony is an element of the murder? The Court said no. In other words, if you walked up to the store clerk and fired a gun, you could not be charged with both types of murder.

In People v O’Neal, the defendant fired at a van that he believed contained rival gang members. Instead, he killed his friend who was sitting in a car across the street. The defendant was charged with felony murder based on his aggravated use of a weapon. Because discharging the gun was inherent in killing his friend, it could not serve as the basis for felony murder.

Felony murder does not require the state to prove that you intended to kill. The state need only prove that a death occurred during a felony. Without the element of intent, however, a defendant cannot raise state of mind as a defense. In the above case, the defendant believed he was shooting in self-defense. This belief could have reduced the offense from first to second degree murder. By charging the defendant with felony murder based on firing a gun, the court reasoned that the state would be entitled to a first degree murder conviction it could not otherwise get.

If you have been charged with a crime, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. An attorney can review your case for its best possible defense. Did the police act properly in searching your premises, arresting you or taking your confession? Does the state have the evidence it needs to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? The answers to those questions can help determine the strategy for your case.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

See 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3) First Degree Murder statute.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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