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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: January 8, 2020 09:31 AM
From: Senator Daylin Leach
To: All Senate members
Subject: Eliminating the Felony Murder Doctrine
Soon I will reintroduce legislation to eliminate the use of felony murder doctrine to convict people of second-degree murder. An offender is guilty of second-degree murder if he acts as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony and that felony results in the wrongful death of another person. A person convicted of second-degree murder receives a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

The doctrine of felony murder can lead to unjust results. Assume three people agree to rob a bank. They agree that Person A and Person B will go inside the bank and nonviolently demand money by passing a note to the teller while Person C waits outside to drive the getaway car. When the crime occurs, Person A panics, pulls out a gun that his accomplices did not know he had, and shoots the teller, killing her. Under felony murder doctrine, Person B and Person C would be guilty of second-degree murder even though they did not murder anyone, they agreed to commit the robbery nonviolently, and they had no knowledge that Person A possessed a firearm or intended to shoot anyone.

The felony murder doctrine undermines our most basic criminal justice principal: that we should punish people for the crimes they commit or intend to commit. This doctrine leads to unjust results, including cases where the person who committed the murder is punished less severely than the person who did not. The cost to the taxpayers of exacting such disproportionate and unjustified punishment is enormous.

My bill would end this injustice while continuing to permit the punishment of all defendants for any crimes they commit or intend to commit.

Last session this proposal was known as Senate Bill 293 and was cosponsored by Senators White, Tartaglione, and Street. Please join me in supporting this important legislation.

If you have questions about this legislation, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Introduced as SB1044