Felony murder. Not just murder, but felony murder. Sounds serious, doesn’t it?
In fact, however, “felony murder” isn’t really murder at all. The idea is that the perpetrator has agreed to participate in some felony or other – a robbery, a grand theft auto, a sex offense – and in the course of carrying it out someone is killed. The perpetrator who neither killed nor meant to kill is liable under the felony murder rule for murder.
One would think that this harsh rule would at least be limited to a lesser category of murder, though. It’s criminal behavior for sure, but not remotely like intentionally offing someone. And felony murder is an old rule. It’s been abolished in a lot of places. But not in the US. And not in Arizona, where felony murder is murder in the first degree.
Indeed, in Arizona it is a death penalty eligible offense. Of course ostensibly that’s only if “aggravating factors” are present. But the aggravating factors requirement is a joke, a flagrant example of bootstrapping:
bootstrap, v., trans: to make use of existing resources or capabilities … to modify … by making use of what is already present.
Why do I say this?
If you look at the lengthy list of “aggravating factors” provided by Arizona statute, there’s this one:
2. The defendant has been or was previously convicted of a serious offense, whether preparatory or completed. Convictions for serious offenses committed on the same occasion as the homicide, or not committed on the same occasion but consolidated for trial with the homicide, shall be treated as a serious offense under this paragraph.
So, when you fall under the felony murder rule in Arizona – a rule where you can be liable for a murder without killing anyone or even intending to kill anyone – the same offense(s) that bring you under the rule in the first place will also provide an “aggravating factor” that makes you eligible for the death penalty.
I think this stautory scheme is disingenuous, dishonest and violates a defendant’s right to due process of law. Not that it matters what I think, of course.