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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: January 17, 2017 01:21 PM
From: Senator Daylin Leach
To: All Senate members
Subject: Eliminate Felony Murder from Pennsylvania Law
In the near future I will introduce legislation to eliminate murder of the second degree from Pennsylvania law. Also known as the "Felony Murder" doctrine, a murder of the second degree occurs when a criminal homicide is committed while an offender is engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony.

In other words, if more than one person is involved in the perpetration of a felony, each person involved shall be held responsible for a criminal homicide that occurs as a result. A guilty verdict for murder of the second degree carries a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

An example of how this might play out is as follows: Assume two people agree that they will go to a convenience store, and Person A will wait for the cash drawer to open, and grab the cash. Person B will wait outside and drive the getaway car.

Person A goes into the store and, instead of grabbing the cash, pulls out a gun and shoots the clerk behind the counter, killing the clerk. Under current law, Person B would be guilty of second degree murder even though he or she did not kill anyone, and even though he or she had no knowledge that Person A would kill the clerk, or intended to shoot anyone, or even possessed a gun.

This is not only an injustice, it undermines the basic notion of criminal law that we punish people for the crimes they commit or intend to commit. This doctrine leads to unjust results, including cases where the person who actually commits the murder is punished less than the person who did not. The cost to the taxpayers of exacting such disproportionate and unjustified punishment is enormous.

This bill would, of course, continue to permit the punishment of any defendant for any other crime they commit or intend to commit.

If you have questions about this legislation, please contact my Legislative Director, Jon Tew, at jtew@pasenate.com or 610-768-4200.

Introduced as SB293