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State Senator Proposes Changes to Pennsylvania Felony Murder Rule

Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach is drafting legislation that would remove the existing felony murder rule from the language that defines second-degree murder in Pennsylvania.

Currently, individuals in Pennsylvania who are convicted of second-degree murder receive a mandatory life sentence. Second-degree murder differs from first-degree murder in that it is not premeditated or necessarily intentional. It, however, could be the result of another crime, such as an armed robbery or rape.

Leach’s proposed changes would eliminate strict liability for murder when committing felonies, as he believes people should be punished for crimes they committed and actually intended to commit in a “commensurate” way.

What led to this proposed change?

The main problem Leach sees with the current law is that a person who did not intend to kill someone automatically receives the exact same sentence as a person who did intend to kill. His proposal came to a head after June 2015, when the Pennsylvania Superior Court denied a Maryland man’s appeal of his life sentence from 1990 when he was convicted on two counts of second-degree murder. He had conspired with three other men to tie up and rob a couple in their home. The couple eventually died of starvation, as they were not discovered until a week later.

According to Leach, there are approximately 400 inmates in Pennsylvania who are serving life sentences for second-degree murder who were not the people who actually committed the murder. While life imprisonment for second-degree murder would not be ruled out as a penalty for such crimes, it would be removed as the mandatory default punishment.

If you are facing criminal charges and could use the guidance of a knowledgeable defense attorney, reach out to the team at David R. Eshelman: A Professional Corporation — serving clients throughout Berks County.

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