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Matthew A. Radefeld and Daniel A. Juengel

How felony murder differs from first and second-degree murder

On Behalf of | Mar 28, 2023 | Criminal Law, Homicide |

Homicide is a very serious crime that comes with serious consequences. However, most people don’t realize that there are different categories of murder, first-degree murder and second-degree murder (which also includes the concept of felony murder). Although both degrees are considered Class A felonies, the potential sentences vary greatly depending on the specifics of the crime. A conviction of murder can result in anything from a decade of imprisonment to life, or even the death penalty. Additionally, the court may add fines and restitution depending on the severity of the crime and any aggravating circumstances that apply.

First-degree murder

First-degree murder is the highest level felony one can face. Per Missouri laws, it is committed when an individual “knowingly causes the death of another person after deliberation upon the matter.” In other words, the accused must be aware of what they are doing and must have thought about it, even for a few seconds. A guilty verdict could see the accused spending life in prison without parole or the death penalty being imposed in some cases. For the latter to be carried out, the prosecutors must demonstrate that the defendant is a continued danger to society and that there are no mitigating factors or that the act was committed in a particularly abhorrent manner.

Second-degree murder

Second-degree murder is also a Class A felony in Missouri and, according to state law, is carried out when someone “knowingly causes the death of another person or, with the purpose of causing serious physical injury to another person, causes the death of another person.” This can lead to life in prison without parole or a ten to thirty-year sentence if convicted.

Felony murder

Felony murder is a legal concept that is recognized in many states, including Missouri. Felony murder is considered second-degree murder and holds a person responsible for someone’s death if the death occurred during or in connection with the commission of a felony. Felony murder can happen even if the original felony was not inherently dangerous. It is possible to be charged and convicted of this crime, even when there was no intention for someone to die and regardless of who directly caused the death. In situations where the intended crime was not fully carried out, so long as the intention to commit the felony was present, simply the intention to commit a felony has to exist.

Since felony murder is considered second-degree murder, it carries the possible sentence of ten to thirty years in prison or a life sentence if the judge deems fit due to aggravating factors.