Felony Murder

Felony Murder

Felony Murder

Felony Murder


The felony murder doctrine is one of the most widely criticized features of American criminal law. Legal scholars almost unanimously condemn it as irrational, concluding that it imposes punishment without fault and presumes guilt without proof. Despite this, the law persists in almost every U. S. jurisdiction.

Felony Murder is the first book on this controversial legal doctrine. It shows that felony murder liability rests on a simple and powerful idea: that the guilt incurred in attacking or endangering others depends on one's reasons for doing so. Inflicting harm is wrong, and doing so for a bad motive- such as robbery, rape, or arson- aggravates that wrong. In presenting this idea, Guyora Binder criticizes prevailing academic theories of criminal intent for trying to purge criminal law of moral judgment. Ultimately, Binder shows that felony murder law has been and should remain limited by its justifying aims.


Although the felony murder rule is one of the most criticized features of American criminal law, no book has ever been written on the topic before.

Such a book is needed for many reasons. Felony murder liability is part of homicide law in almost every American jurisdiction. It is important that lawyers, lawmakers, and voters understand how it works and how it can be improved. Legal scholars have long viewed it as an irrational vestige of ancient English law that does not cohere with the rest of modern criminal law. This view is unfortunate. Felony murder law is more modern and less harsh than commonly believed. Excluding it from general accounts of criminal law as an archaic exception distorts our understanding of the overarching principles of modern criminal law. This book sets out to correct the historical record, explain modern felony murder law, identify needed reforms, and show how, by taking account of felony murder liability, we can improve our understanding of the basic principles of American criminal law.

I am grateful to many people who encouraged and assisted me in the preparation of this book.

George Fletcher, my teacher at Yale and my supervisor in a research fellowship at U.C.L.A., first awakened my interest in criminal law. in this regard, my experience is not unique. George has enlivened criminal law scholarship the world over and more or less invented the field of criminal law theory in the United States. Thus George not only enabled me to produce this book, but also created an audience for it.

Markus Dubber, my colleague at Buffalo for many years, has made indispensable contributions to this project at every stage. He first attracted my attention to the felony murder problem by inviting me to write a review essay on Samuel Pillsbury’s excellent book on homicide, Judging Evil. Many opportunities followed to contribute to conferences and symposia too numerous to recount, and many of those papers informed this project. Co-teaching courses with Markus . . .

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