People v. Aaron

The Facts

Defendant convicted of first-degree felony murder when he killed in the process of an armed robbery.

Procedural History

Convicted at trial.  Jury instructed they could convict of first-degree murder if they believed defendant “killed the victim during the commission or attempted commission of an armed robbery.”


“This court has held, at least with killings during commission of non-enumerated felonies, that malice may be inferred but the nature of the felonious act must be considered.”

The Issue

“Whether Michigan state law has a felony murder rule which allows the element of malice required for murder to be satisfied by the intent to commit the underlying felony or whether malice must be otherwise found by the trier of fact (the jury).”

The Holding/Reasoning

No. Conviction overturned.  The court believes “it is no longer acceptable to equate the intent to commit a felony with the intent to kill.”   A defendant who only intends to commit the felony does not also intent to commit the harm which may result.  Therefore, malice, in Michigan, requires “the intent to kill.”   Malice is an essential element of murder when it occurs in the course of a felony.  The facts and evidence of the case may infer an intent to kill, but this is for the jury to decide.  “Otherwise, juries might be required to find the fact of malice where they were satisfied from the whole evidence it did not exist.”  A jury can properly infer malice from evidence, where a defendant set in motion “a force likely to cause death or great bodily harm.”  As such, whenever the defendant begins a felony which will likely result in the death of others, the jury may infer malice and consider “the nature of the underlying felony and the circumstances surrounding its commission.”

Many states have treated the felony murder rule disfavorly.  Other courts have required a finding of separate mens rea connected with the killing in addition to the intent associated with the felony.  The most important principle of criminal law in general is mens rea.  The most basic component of mens rea is violated with the felony-murder rule.  This is so because “it punishes all homicides, committed in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of proscribed felonies whether intentional, unintentional or accidental, with the necessity of proving the relation between the homicide and the perpetrator’s state of mind.”  The felony-murder rule, therefore, violates the relationship between criminality and moral culpability.


Note, this outcome is not typical of most courts.

MPC:  “1. The felonious act must be dangerous to life. 2. The homicide must be a natural and probable consequence of the felonious act. 3. Death must be proximately caused.  4. The felony must be malum in se. 5. The act must be a common –law felony. 6 The period during which the felony is in the process of commission must be narrowly construed. 7. The underlying felony must be independent of the homicide.”

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