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Massachusetts High Court Drops Felony Murder

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At the time of the American Revolution, criminal law was a mixture of case law and statutes, with the elements of some crimes being established by courts and therefore changeable by them.  In some Eastern states that is still the case.  In Massachusetts, the basic felony-murder rule comes from case law, and today the Supreme Judicial Court abolished it, prospectively only, in Commonwealth v. Brown, SJC-11669.

Generally, murder is distinguished from manslaughter by the mental element of "malice."  Definitions of "malice" vary among the states.  Under the felony-murder rule, the intent to commit certain dangerous felonies (e.g., robbery) supplies the mental element so that every participant in the robbery is guilty of murder if someone is killed.  In its most extreme form, one robber can be guilty of the murder of the other if the other is justifiably killed by the robbery victim.  Even I think that's going way too far.

I have only skimmed the opinion so far, so I won't be commenting on it at this time.  Thanks to former CJLF Fellow Christine Dowling for the tip.

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The felony murder rule also prevents criminals from pointing at each other to escape a murder rap. It also incentivizes the criminals to rein in the more violent of the criminals acting in concert.

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