In Illinois, felony murder is a type of first degree murder. You commit felony murder when you, by yourself or with another, commit or try to commit a forcible felony (such as armed robbery but not second degree murder) and in the course of your crime or attempted escape, you or your accomplice cause a death. See 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3).

Felony murder does not require an intent to kill. If there is an intent to kill, you could be charged with another type of murder. Felony murder merely requires a death in the course of committing a forcible felony. As of July 1, 2021, the death must be caused by you or another participant in the crime. In other words, you can no longer be charged with felony murder if a victim kills a third party while shooting in self defense.

To determine whether the underlying felony qualifies as “forcible,” the court examines whether you contemplated that violence might be necessary to carry out your purpose. For example, in People v. Schmidt, the defendant’s drunken theft of a van and excessive speeding in escaping was not a forcible felony even though he killed a pedestrian as a result. The court held that while this behavior could support a conviction for reckless homicide, the defendant had not contemplated that the use of force against an individual might be necessary to accomplish his escape.

On the other hand, in People v Figueroa, the aggravated discharge of a firearm was considered a forcible felony where the defendant shot at a rival gang member but killed an innocent bystander. And in People v. Phillips, aggravated arson was a forcible felony where the defendant set a fire that killed three people even though the defendant set the fire out of frustration and not out of any desire to kill.

If you are charged with felony murder or another criminal offense, contact an experienced criminal lawyer immediately. An attorney can review your case for your best possible defense. Was the underlying crime a forcible felony? Was the use of violence contemplated as part of the underlying offense? The answer can be very fact specific and different judges may view the facts completely differently. An attorney who is familiar with your courthouse may be able to present your situation in its most favorable light.

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

(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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