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    Pennsylvania Second Degree Murder (AKA: Felony Murder) Law

    Second Degree Murder in Pennsylvania – The Current Status of 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.

    More: Custodial Interrogation – The Right to Counsel in PA Criminal Cases (May 2015 Law Update)

    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.

    Recent Scranton Case – Teens Charged with Second Degree Murder

    A few months ago, 3 Scranton PA teens were charged with second degree murder after a police officer who was chasing them died. The teens are alleged to have committed robbery and other crimes. While they were being chased on foot, a police officer jumped over a wall and suffered major injuries. He died the next day. So far, no facts have surfaced indicating that any of the teens pushed the officer over the wall. There’s much at stake; if convicted of second degree murder, each of the teens face a mandatory life sentence.

    Applying Pennsylvania law to this recent case, there may be a successful argument that no action was taken by any of the defendants which led to the officer’s death. Therefore, they cannot be guilty of felony murder.

    Disclaimer: This website does not create any attorney-client relationship or provide legal advice. Our lawyers provide legal advice only after accepting a case. It is imperative that any action taken is done on advice of counsel. Read full disclaimer below.

    David S. Nenner

    "Top Rated Criminal Defense Lawyer"

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