Should the felony murder rule in Oklahoma be repealed? I’m Tulsa attorney James Wirth. That’s a question that we have before. It’s actually spurred by this notification I got that there’s actually a petition circulating on Change.org stating that, deciding people to vote and sign a petition to abolish the felony murder rule in Oklahoma.
Under the felony murder rule, it’s possible for someone to be charged and found guilty of murder even if they did not cause the death of the person and even if they did not intend the death of the person if the death was related to the commission of a felony that the defendant was committing. And there’s actually a recent case that’s come out from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. It’s an unpublished case, but it’s interesting.
The Pleasant Case
The State of Oklahoma v. Pleasant, S-2022-375 is a case where we had some inmates in an Oklahoma penitentiary. One of the inmates took a guard hostage and took the keys from him, handed it to inmate number two. Inmate number two then released inmate number three. Inmate number three is the one that’s charged in this case, Pleasant, and he released some other inmates. As part of this going on, other officers came in and ultimately shot and killed the original inmate who kidnapped the guard.
That is the death that the defendant, Pleasant, is being charged with, even though he did not intend anybody to die, presumably. And he did not cause that death. Law enforcement did when they were ending that kidnapping. The question is, one, can Pleasant be charged with murder based on the felony murder doctrine? And was his action in releasing other inmates in furtherance of the original kidnapping that occurred before he started doing that?
The Use of the Felony Murder Doctrine
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, contrary to the trial judge that kicked the case, found that, at least for probable cause determination or preliminary hearing, the state did meet its burden to show that Pleasant aided and abetted the kidnapping by releasing additional prisoners, making him a principal to that felony crime, which means that he can be charged with the felony murder, be charged under felony murder doctrine with the murder of the original inmate that kidnapped the person under the felony murder doctrine.
So does the felony murder doctrine make sense in Oklahoma? Should that continue to be the rule of law where someone can be charged with, in this case, first-degree murder, even though there wasn’t an intent for someone to die and the person was not responsible for that person’s death just because it occurred during the commission of a crime that is a felony? Well, that is the question that has to be decided here, and that is something for you to ponder. Maybe put some comments below and see what your thoughts are.
Meanwhile, we will follow that petition, and see if that results in anybody picking it up in the state legislature. But generally speaking, from my point of view, generally as a libertarian, I think that people should be charged with crimes for which they have actus reus and mens rea, meaning that they committed a bad act and they had an evil intent. In the case of the felony murder doctrine, the person can be charged with the underlying felony, but to further charge them with the murder that they did not cause directly or intend, I think that’s probably not the best use of a criminal justice system. That’s my opinion. I ought to state your opinions below. If you’re dealing with a circumstance like this, then you’re going to want to talk to an Oklahoma criminal defense lawyer privately and confidentially about your case to seek legal advice. And again, you can go online to makelaweasy.com.