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630-472-9700Available 24/7

Illinois’ Felony Murder Rule

Posted on in Criminal Defense

felony murder rule, Illinois criminal defense law, armed robbery, Illinois law, Oakbrook lawyerFifteen-year-old Emmanuel Johnson did not shoot and kill Deonte Mackey. But Johnson is being charged with murder anyway.

Here are the alleged facts: the trouble began when Johnson and Mackey, 16, along with another teenaged accomplice, attempted to rob an off-duty sheriff at gunpoint. It was the sheriff who killed Mackey during the course of the attempted robbery at a Cook County gas station. But, under Illinois law, it might as well have been Johnson who pulled the trigger.

Armed robbery is a felony, and when a person is killed during the commission or attempted commission of a felony, Illinois classifies that killing as felony murder. Intent is irrelevant. If a jury determines that the attempted robbery was the proximate cause of Mackey’s death, then Johnson – and potentially the other accomplice as well – is guilty by association. This is a controversial rule, but it is important to understand. Felony murder is treated like first-degree murder, and in Illinois, offenders may face the death penalty. (However, if convicted, this will not be Johnson’s fate since the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for juveniles in 2005.)

Felony Murder Cannot Be Justified by Claiming Self-Defense

Was the sheriff justified in shooting Mackey? Illinois law might say that he was. In this state, certain situations permit what otherwise would be deemed criminal behavior. For example, the law allows someone to kill in self-defense, but only if that person reasonably believes “that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another, or the commission of a forcible felony.” In other words, the defender must demonstrate that:

  • The force used was necessary to prevent a great harm;
  • The force used was proportional to the degree of that harm; and
  • The threat of harm to oneself, property or another person was immediate and imminent.

Not everyone can claim self-defense. For example, that justification is not available to a person who:

  • Uses force in the commission or attempted commission of a felony; or
  • Is the aggressor and provokes the use of force against himself (unless he in good faith retreats and the provoked then becomes the aggressor).

The takeaway here is that self-defense is not an available justification for felony murder in Illinois. Thus, if the facts had suggested that Johnson had accidentally shot Mackey while defending himself from the sheriff, Johnson would still be facing a felony murder charge.

For additional help understanding this criminal law concept please contact Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C. today for a consultation. We have offices in Oak Brook and Naperville, and we are also free to help residents in many nearby communities. Call today at 630-472-9700.

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