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Wisconsin Felony Murder Law

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Wisconsin criminal defense attorney, Wisconsin defense lawyer, Wisconsin homicide lawyerHomicide laws are almost all focused on the intent of the person committing the crime. An intentional killing is treated as more serious than a killing that was merely done recklessly. Yet, there is one area of homicide law where intent is almost totally irrelevant: felony murder. Felony murder is a special type of homicide under Wisconsin law that people may be charged with if they cause someone's death during the commission of a felony, regardless of intent. Defendants convicted of felony murder in Wisconsin can face an extra 15 years in prison on top of their sentence for the original crime.

What Felony Murder Is

Felony murder is an extra crime that exists in order to add severity to instances where a defendant's crime caused the death of another person. However, not all crimes will trigger the felony murder rule. Instead, it must be one of the crimes listed in the Wisconsin felony murder statute. These felonies are:

  • Battery;
  • Sexual assault;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Arson;
  • Burglary; or
  • Auto theft by force.

Importantly, the law does impose a final catchall category. Felony murder may also be charged for crimes committed using explosives or a dangerous weapon.

What It Means to “Cause” a Death

Understanding what it means to cause a death while committing a crime may seem intuitive and straightforward, but the law here actually imposes a fairly broad meaning of the word causation. In order to prove felony murder, the state simply has to show that the defendant's conduct was a “substantial factor” in the death. For instance, if a person causes a car accident between two other people during a crime and that accident results in a death, then that may result in a felony murder charge.

That example raises another important note about felony murder. The acts of other people may still give rise to a felony murder charge. Consequently, if a co-conspirator kills someone during the crime, the other defendants may be found guilty of felony murder. In fact, it need not even be a co-conspirator. The death that triggers felony murder could be the result of a bystander, even if that bystander was being legally negligent. For example, suppose a person attempts to rob a bank using a dangerous weapon, and a bystander in the bank has a gun. If that bystander pulls out the gun and starts firing wildly at the robber with no regard for anyone else standing nearby, the robber may still be charged with felony murder if one of those stray bullets ends up killing someone in the bank.

Felony murder is a serious charge that can add 15 years on top of any other crimes. If you or a loved one has recently been charged with felony murder, contact an experienced Milwaukee criminal defense attorney today.
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