Answers.com defines felony murder as:
An unlawful homicide that occurs in the commission or attempted commission of a felony, which is considered first degree murder by operation of this doctrine. In many modern statutes, only homicides that occur in the course of certain specified felonies are “felony murders.”
A Supreme Court ruling in May declared that juvenile life without parole was cruel and unusual punishment for juveniles who committed crimes other than homicide. Already, defense attorneys are using the decision to challenge felony murder doctrine as it applies to juveniles. A recent case filed in York County, Pennsylvania seeks relief for Michael A. Lehman who was 14 when he was sentenced to life in connection with the stabbing death of Kwame Beatty in 1988. Lehman’s attorney has filed a motion arguing for Lehman’s release on the basis that at no time did the state ever allege Lehman carried out the murder.
While the details of the Lehman case are unclear, under Colorado law the rules for charging felony murder include everything from unintended death resulting from arson all the way down to aiding in the immediate flight from a crime scene at which a death occurred.
There are currently at least 12 offenders serving life without parole for felony murders committed as juveniles. While the circumstances of each of these cases is unclear, there are several where the child’s greatest crime was to help a murder suspect leave the scene of the crime. Everyone knows the psychological principles behind ‘fight or flight.’ But dozens of studies show that teens’ decision-making faculties are not fully developed and that full brain maturation does not occur until at least the age of 24.
In light of the recent Supreme Court decision, new scientific evidence around brain research and recent challenges to the felony murder doctrine each case where a child simply sought to flee the scene of the crime (with or without the suspect), needs comprehensive and substantive review to determine if the juveniles in question were fully culpable and deserving of a life sentence.