Second Degree Murder in Pennsylvania – The Felony Murder Rule in PA
The felony murder rule is alive and well in Pennsylvania criminal cases. Basically, any death which occurs during the commission of a felony, such as robbery, arson, etc., may be charged as murder in the second degree. 18 PA. STAT. ANN. § 2502(b) provides:
Murder of the second degree.–A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the second degree when it is committed while defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony.
Under Pennsylvania’s felony murder rule, even an accomplice can be convicted of felony murder. Specific intent to kill is not required. In other words, a defendant can be convicted of murder in the second degree if, during the course of the crime (felony), a person died, even if the defendant did not form the specific intent to kill that person.
Agency Theory in Second Degree Murder Cases in Pennsylvania
One of the key aspects in defending a second degree murder case in Pennsylvania is considering the nature of the death itself. Some states employ what is known as the “proximate cause theory” which requires that the death be a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the crime. Pennsylvania courts do not apply the proximate cause theory.
Pennsylvania has long since employed what is called the “agency theory” in second degree murder cases. See Commonwealth v. Redline (1958), where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a defendant could not be guilty of felony murder of a co-defendant, where the co-defendant was shot and killed by a police officer in a shootout. The court stated:
“The mere coincidence of homicide and felony is not enough to satisfy the requirements of the felony-murder doctrine. ‘It is necessary. . .to show that the conduct causing death was done in furtherance of the design to commit the felony.’… [I]n order to convict for felony-murder, the killing must have been done by the defendant or by an accomplice or confederate or by one acting in furtherance of the felonious undertaking.” (citations omitted, emphasis added)
In a more recent case, Commonwealth v. Cogmon (May 2015), the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld a second degree murder conviction where a co-defendant shot and killed the robbery victim while the victim tried to retrieve his wallet from defendant Cogmon. The court found that the victim’s death was a consequence, not merely a coincidence of the robbery.
PA Criminal Lawyer – Murder Cases
If you or a loved one is facing a murder charge in Pennsylvania, please contact the Nenner Law Firm for a free consultation. With over 30 years of experience, David S. Nenner has the expertise to fight your case. (215) 515-0042
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