Felony murder rule (California)

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In the state of California, the common law felony murder rule has been codified in California Penal Code § 189.

First degree murder[edit]

California Penal Code § 189[1] classifies a homicide as first degree murder when it is a murder committed during the commission of one of the following predicate felonies:[2]

  • Arson
  • Rape and other sexual crimes
  • Carjacking
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Mayhem
  • Kidnapping
  • Train wrecking
  • And any homicide committed by intentionally firing a gun from a motor vehicle at a person outside of the motor vehicle with the intention to cause death

First degree murder and negligence[edit]

In March of 2013, the California Supreme Court held in People v. Wilkins ((2013) 56 Cal.4th 333) that a burglary is complete for purposes of the felony murder rule where death resulted from a negligent act committed while actively engaged in a burglary. Wilkins committed a burglary. On the way from the burglary, unsecured items fell from his pickup truck, causing another driver to swerve and become involved in a fatal collision. The Court set aside the conviction, which had been upheld by the Court of Appeals, reaffirming the escape rule in which a defendant is deemed to have completed a burglary when he escapes from the scene, is no longer being chased, and has unchallenged possession of the property.[3]

Second degree murder[edit]

In the case People v. Ford, 60 Cal.2d 772 (1964), the California Supreme Court held that homicide during the commission of a felony can constitute second degree murder if the felony is "inherently dangerous to human life."[4]

In the case People v. Hansen, 9 Cal.4th 300 (1994), the California Supreme Court held that discharging a firearm at an inhabited dwelling is an inherently dangerous felony for the purposes of second degree felony murder.[5]

California courts have also found manufacturing methamphetamine,[6] maliciously burning a car,[7] and possessing a bomb in a residential area [8] to be inherently dangerous felonies.


  1. ^ California Penal Code § 189
  2. ^ McCarthy, K.E. Felony Murder. Connecticut General Assembly Office of Legislative Research, 13 February 2008
  3. ^ Justices Clarify Felony Murder Rule,The Recorder, March 7, 2013
  4. ^ People v. Patterson, 49 Cal.3d 615, 626 (1989)
  5. ^ Bonnie, R.J. et al. Criminal Law, Second Edition. Foundation Press, New York, NY: 2004, p. 865
  6. ^ People v. James (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 244, 258.
  7. ^ People v. Nichols (1970) 3 Cal.3d 150
  8. ^ People v. Morse (1992) 2 Cal.App.4th 620, 646