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Felony Murder Rule in Utah

Has Utah adopted the common law felony murder rule?

The felony murder rule was originally developed under English common law. In enacting the Utah statutory criminal code, the Legislature abolished all common law crimes in Utah and instead established that only offenses affirmatively established by the criminal code or other statute or ordinance would be considered criminal offenses. See, Utah Code 76-1-105. The felony murder rule still survives in the Utah criminal code (with some modifications) under Utah Code 76-5-203.

Under the traditional common law felony murder rule, a person could be charged with murder if any person was killed (intentionally or unintentionally) during the commission of another felony offense. This rule extended to victims of the other felony, bystanders, police, or even another participant in the crime. Many jurisdictions in the United States have adopted statutes that are very similar to the common law felony murder rule, but often with important distinctions. Some states limit the predicate offenses that can serve as the basis of a felony murder charge to only dangerous or violent felonies. Other states have excluded certain classes of victim, typically other participants in the underlying felony crime. Utah has done both.

Under Utah Code 76-5-203, a person can be convicted of murder if someone other than a "party" (someone participating in the underlying crime) is killed during the commission, attempted commission, or immediate flight from the commission or attempted commission of a specified predicate offense. The list of predicate offenses is made of of felonies that are generally considered dangerous or violent, including:

  • kidnapping and child kidnapping;
  • rape, object rape, forcible sodomy, forcible sexual abuse, and aggravated sexual assault
  • child abuse, sexual abuse of a child, and aggravated sexual abuse of a child;
  • rape of a child, object rape of a child, sodomy upon a child
  • arson and aggravated arson;
  • burglary and aggravated burglary;
  • robbery and aggravated robbery;
  • escape and aggravated escape;
  • felony violations involving discharge of a firearm or dangerous weapon; and
  • clandestine drug lab violations.
Note also that the doctrine of merger does not apply to the felony murder rule as set forth in the Utah criminal code.

Merger typically involves situations where the elements of one offense are a necessary part of the commission of another offense. For example, certain sexual offenses necessarily involve a degree of detention. Under the doctrine of merger, if the detention continues for no longer than what is necessary to commit the other offense, then the detention merges with the other offense and cannot be used to support a separate kidnapping charge. But if the detention continues longer than is necessary, it can be prosecuted as a separate offense.

Under Utah's version of the felony murder rule, none of the predicate offenses are subject to the merger doctrine. Each predicate offense can constitute a separate charge and can carry its own independent penalties. Thus, for example, a person could be charged and convicted both for murder and for burglary if another person were accidentally killed during the commission of the burglary.

Finding a Criminal Defense Attorney

Utah Criminal Defense LawyerCriminal prosecutions in Utah can have life-long repercussions. Whether you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges, having the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney is critical. Choosing the best attorney for your case is one of the most important decision you will make. Contact us today to see how we can help you.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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