Youth Charged with Felony Murder in Car Chase Death
An 18-year-old man is charged with felony murder, grand theft auto, fleeing the police, and multiple counts of reckless driving in a case that ultimately led to the tragic death of an innocent man on his way to go shopping for Christmas presents.
Felony murder is statutorily defined as “[t]he killing of one accidentally, contrary to the intention of the parties, while in the prosecution of some felonious act.” It is considered second degree murder and is punishable by imprisonment of five to forty years. This category of murder is the only type of murder charge that expressly does not require intent. Even standard second degree murder requires the prosecution to prove intent to kill, distinguishing it from first degree murder on the basis of a lack of premeditation.
Felony murder laws were created by legislation in order to deter felonious acts that could turn violent. Recognizing that certain crimes such as burglary, robbery, and larceny, tended to lead to dangerous situations and often turned deadly, legislators attached more harsh consequences for when these risks became actualized. These laws were designed to prevent a certain class of unlawfully caused deaths from going unpunished.
The felony murder rule has been criticized and modified in some jurisdictions to prevent conviction of someone who is a mere participant in a crime and had no reason to know one of their accomplices was armed, or to prevent convictions when an accomplice was killed. But in Virginia the current rule categorically includes all felonies and all deaths. The range of potential sentencing accounts for factors such as: the underlying felony, the defendant’s awareness or lack of awareness of the risk, and other aggravating or mitigating circumstances.
The Underlying Felony
In this case, grand theft auto and fleeing the police both constitute underlying felonies sufficient to establish a felony murder charge, if proven. Both of these acts constitute well-known risks. The underlying risk of stealing a car is directly related to either a confrontation arising from being discovered, or to the risk of reckless flight, as occurred here. The risks of fleeing the police are also evident. In this case, the defendant allegedly drove on the wrong side of the road in his reckless attempts to escape.
It is not clear what specific traffic violations gave rise to the additional three reckless driving counts. However, reckless driving is a misdemeanor in Virginia, and reckless driving causing a death is a felony. If it were not for the underlying felonies, mere reckless driving causing a death would be treated as manslaughter. This is still a felony, but less serious than murder.
Loudoun County’s Reckless Driving and Criminal Attorneys at your Service
If you have been charged with a crime, whether a reckless driving misdemeanor or a more serious charge, you need the best defense you can get. Contact the Leesburg criminal attorneys at Simms Showers today. We defend people accused of a wide variety of crimes, and we devote a substantial amount of our practice to reckless driving.