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U.S. Supreme Court Will Not Rule on Illinois Felony Murder Law

Posted on in Criminal Law

U.S. Supreme Court Will Not Rule on Illinois Felony Murder LawDespite the controversy over Illinois’ felony murder law, the state does not seem to be close to amending the criminal law that allows prosecutors to charge certain defendants with first-degree murder despite them not causing the death or intending to kill the victim. The law states that a person who participates in a forcible felony may be charged with murder if someone dies during the incident, including an accomplice in the crime. An Illinois defendant recently appealed his felony murder conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Illinois Supreme Court had upheld the constitutionality of the law. However, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.


In the recently appealed case, two men were convicted of murder because they were involved in a burglary incident in which police had killed a third suspect. The three men were burglarizing an electronics store when police officers surrounded the building. The men attempted to flee in a vehicle, and the officers shot at them 77 times. One of the men was killed, and the other two were injured. Illinois’ felony murder law allowed the defendants to be charged with murder even though it was the police officers who shot and killed the third man. One defendant was sentenced to 25 years in prison, while the other was sentenced to 20 years.

In a recent high-profile Illinois case, five teens were initially charged with murder when a property owner shot and killed a sixth teen when they were attempting to burglarize his vehicle. The state’s attorney later dropped the murder charges after public pressure.

Problems with the Law

To convict a defendant of first-degree murder, the prosecutors normally must prove that the defendant intended to cause great harm to the victim or knew that their actions put the victim at risk of great harm. Criminal reform advocates claim that the felony murder charge is unconstitutional because it is often used to charge someone with first-degree murder even if they did not:

  • Directly cause the death
  • Directly participate in the forcible part of the felony
  • Possess any weapons
  • Intend to cause harm to anyone

Illinois lawmakers twice introduced bills in 2019 that would amend the felony murder law so that the offender must have caused the death of another person as part of committing the forcible felony. However, neither bill advanced to subcommittee discussion, let alone any form of vote.

Contact a Crystal Lake, Illinois, Criminal Defense Lawyer

When you are accused of a felony, prosecutors will often find reasons to tack on aggravating charges, with felony murder being the most extreme example. A McHenry County criminal defense lawyer at Botto Gilbert Lancaster, PC, can protect you against unfair criminal charges. To schedule a free consultation, call 815-338-3838.



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