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Is the Felony Murder Rule Consistent with Graham v. Florida?

| June 7, 2011

Pat Nolan of Prison Fellowship and Jody Kent Lavy of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth published a joint editorial last month recognizing the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida, a landmark case in juvenile criminal jurisprudence that found life sentences for juveniles who commit non-homicide crimes to be unconstitutional.

Nolan (a Right on Crime signatory) and Lavy highlighted the “felony murder” rule, which generally provides that causing death during the commission of a felony is murder. They suggested that the rule allows some states to avoid complying with the essential holding of Graham.  For example, if a group of teenagers conspires to steal beer from a convenience store, what culpability should attach to the juvenile driver of the car if he does not know that another teenager brought a gun and killed the store clerk?  Is a sentence of life in prison without parole consistent with Graham?  Is it even sound public policy? Nolan and Lavy are skeptical. The question is significant because, as they explain, an estimated 25% of life convictions without parole are for felony murder convictions for minors.

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