Does Ohio Have a Felony Murder Rule?

In most states, you can face criminal charges for murder if, while committing or attempting to commit a felony, someone dies. This is called felony murder. It doesn’t matter whether the felony was successful or if the death was entirely accidental. The fact that someone died while you were attempting to commit a felony offense is enough to warrant murder charges against you.

Ohio does have a version of a felony-murder rule. However, the law is quite narrow. You can only face “felony murder” charges in Ohio if you cause a death while committing or attempting to commit one of a handful of violent crimes.

Does that mean you’re off the hook if you happen to cause someone’s death while committing a relatively-minor felony or a misdemeanor? Not at all. You can – and very likely will – face criminal charges for homicide

How would that be different than facing charges for murder? Here’s what you need to know.

Homicide vs. Murder in Ohio

First, it’s important to discuss homicide and murder. All murders are homicides, but not all homicides are murders. Here’s why.

Homicide simply means that one person kills another. Homicide isn’t always illegal. There are legal homicides. For instance, capital punishment is legal in the state of Ohio. The state can legally kill another person as punishment for a crime they’ve committed. This is homicide, but the person who carries out the lethal injection won’t be charged with a crime. 

There are also unlawful homicides. These are known as criminal homicides. Murder fits into this category. In fact, murder is the most serious type of criminal homicide because the crime requires a very specific intent to kill. Specifically, the killing must be “purposeful.” Aggravated murder involves “prior calculation and design.”  In turn, a murder conviction can carry incredibly harsh penalties – including the possibility of the death penalty. 

Not all criminal homicides are classified as murder. That’s because not all criminal homicides are purposeful or the result of a calculated attack. There are times when you might unlawfully cause the death of another person by mistake, by accident, or in a fit of rage. 

Many times, these are the types of homicide charges you’d face if, while committing another crime, you happened to cause another person’s death. In Ohio, murder charges are typically reserved only for those cases involving a very specific intent.

What Charges Could I Face If I Kill Another Person While Committing a Felony in Ohio?

There are a number of homicide charges you could face if you cause another person’s death while committing or attempting to commit a crime in Ohio. 

Murder

Ohio’s felony murder rule can be found in ORC § 2903.02(B). It provides that “No person shall cause the death of another as a proximate result of the offender’s committing or attempting to commit an offense of violence that is a felony of the first or second degree and that is not a violation of section 2903.03 or 2903.04 of the Revised Code.” 

So, you can face charges for murder if someone dies while you’re committing or attempting to commit a particularly violent felony. Felonies that trigger charges under § 2903.02(B) include:

For this offense, you don’t have to intend or purposefully kill another person to face murder charges. In fact, you don’t even have to be the one who caused the person’s death. You just have to have the intent to commit or help to commit the underlying crime.

However, it’s important to note that Ohio’s felony-murder rule has been overturned, in part, by the courts. If you are unsuccessful in committing the underlying felony, you cannot face murder charges for a proximate death. In other words, you can’t be charged with an attempt to commit felony murder. 

If convicted for murder under § 2903.02(B), you face at least 15 years, and as long as life, in prison.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Ohio’s felony murder rule has been replaced, by and large, but the state’s involuntary manslaughter law. Under ORC § 2903.04, you can face charges for involuntary manslaughter if:

  • Someone dies while you are committing a felony, or
  • Someone dies while you are committing a misdemeanor.

Your actions must be a proximate cause of the person’s death. In other words, the person wouldn’t have died unless you engaged in the behavior you did. You can face charges for involuntary manslaughter regardless of whether your efforts to commit the underlying crime are successful. 

The penalties for involuntary manslaughter depend on whether the death occurred while you were attempting to commit a misdemeanor or a felony. For involuntary manslaughter resulting from an underlying misdemeanor, the term of imprisonment can range from anywhere between nine months and three years. For involuntary manslaughter resulting from an underlying felony, you can face between three and eleven years behind bars.

Always Call a Criminal Defense Lawyer If You’re Arrested or Charged With a Crime

If you’re accused of committing a crime and someone dies, you could potentially be charged with murder or homicide. The best way to defend yourself and protect your future is by enlisting the aid of an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Columbus. Your attorney can help you fight the charges, challenge any evidence the state might have, and help you navigate this very overwhelming and stressful situation.

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