Can You Be Convicted of Murder Without the Intent to Kill?

By Joel Hancock

When someone accidentally crashes their car into the vehicle in front of them, they can still be held responsible – even though it was unintentional. But what about a felony? Can someone be held responsible for a felony that they didn’t mean to commit? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

The Felony Murder Rule

When someone commits a dangerous felony and accidentally kills someone else in the commission of the crime, he or she can still be charged with first-degree murder. This is known as felony murder. If someone is an accomplice to a dangerous felony that results in an unintentional killing, he or she can also be charged with murder. 

For instance, imagine someone brings a gun to rob a bank and confronts the bank teller with the weapon. The bank teller is terrified and suffers a heart attack and dies as a result. The individual with the gun and the getaway driver can both be charged with first-degree murder under the felony murder rule. 


Under North Carolina’s felony murder rule, someone can be found guilty of first-degree murder if a homicide is committed during the commission or the attempted commission of any of the following felonies:

  • Robbery;
  • Burglary;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Rape or a felony sex offense;
  • Arson;
  • Any felony committed or attempted with the use of a deadly weapon.

Possession of a Deadly Weapon

As for the last bullet, the defendant isn’t required to know ahead of time that he or she will use a deadly weapon. Likewise, any accomplices to the crime don’t have to know that the other possessed a deadly weapon. It doesn’t matter whether co-conspirators are aware that the other defendant had a gun so long as the gun was used in the commission or attempted commission of a felony that he or she did know about and take part in, in some manner. 

Additionally, it is irrelevant whether or not the deadly weapon was even used to commit the primary felony – just that it was in the defendant’s possession. 

Whereas first-degree murder ordinarily requires proof of intent, this is not required under the felony murder rule. Rather, the defendant must have had intent to commit the initial felony. 

And finally, it doesn’t matter at what part of the attempt or commission of a crime someone is killed. It only matters that they were killed during the uninterrupted chain of events. For instance, if the bank robber jumps into a getaway car and while speeding away crashes into another car, which causes it to hit a pedestrian, the robber and driver could be charged with first-degree murder under the felony murder rule. 

Hancock Law Firm, PLLC Help Those in North Carolina Who Have Been Charged with Felony Murder

A charge under the felony murder rule should be taken very seriously, as a conviction can have long-term effects on your life. That’s why it is in your best interest to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. 

At Hancock Law Firm, PLLC, we fully understand what is at stake and will do everything that we can to help you fight these charges and obtain the best possible outcome for you. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!

About the Author
Joel Hancock is a native of Carteret County, NC. He devotes 100% of his practice to defending those accused of traffic infractions, DWI, misdemeanors, and felonies in Carteret County, NC.