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Imprisoned for Life by Loaning a Car – Felony Murder


Photo by Johnny Grim

I just received a great email from a new reader, Ashish. He pointed out an interesting article from the NY Times. It’s about a guy who loaned his car to a friend. Then the friend committed a burglary, which turned violent and ended in murder. Now the car owner is serving life for murder.

Ashish then asked about the law behind this case and whether or not it applies in Massachusetts. In short, the answer is yes.

Felony murder

As the Times article explains, this is an American legal doctrine that punishes people for murder, even if they didn’t physically murder someone.

If you’re involved in a felony and someone is killed, you can be charged with murder. That’s the basic rule.

Felonies are typically violent. They are crimes like robbery, burglary, and rape. If you are committing a felony (even just the getaway driver) and someone is murdered in the process, the law charges you with murder. Don’t be a felon.


To answer Ashish’s main question, Massachusetts still has a felony murder rule. Here’s the source for that:

“[T]he felony-murder rule in the Commonwealth imposes criminal liability for homicide on all participants in a certain common criminal enterprise if a death occurred in the course of that enterprise.” Commonwealth v. Matchett, 386 Mass. 492, 502 (1982), quoting from Commonwealth v. Watkins, 375 Mass. 472, 486 (1978).

Again, don’t be a felon.

Any questions?

I hope this post makes sense. I’d like to write more articles like this, explaining crazy legal things in terms that regular people can understand.

If you have a question about this post, just drop a comment below. If you have another question, contact me.

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9 Responses to “Imprisoned for Life by Loaning a Car – Felony Murder”

  1. Modern Living Room Furniture
    December 5th, 2007

    My question is: How much time does the actual murderer do? and isnt it required for there to me some mens rea or criminal intent on part of the felon by default? In this case, does the car owner have to have knowledge of or complicity in the actual crime committed? I mean if he did not know what his friend wanted to borrow his car for, would he still be liable?

  2. Modern Living Room Furniture
    December 5th, 2007

    And another question: I had once heard of a tort liability arising out of case where a burglar entered a house thru the roof and got injured on some items negligently placed in the house, and then went on to sue the homeowner for negligence or something to that effect. I had also heard that the homeowner was directed to pay damages. Is this actually true? if so isnt this a case of tort liability gone mad?

  3. Shark Girl
    December 5th, 2007

    I don’t understand why the owner of the vehicle was charged if he wasn’t even at the scene. That means I can loan my car to someone, and I could be at work minding my own business and end up in prison?

    How am I responsible for what another human being does when I’m not even aware it’s being done? And wouldn’t they have to show intent that I loaned my vehicle to someone willingly so they can use it as an escape vehicle?

    If this is the case, then why aren’t corporate executives charged for murder when their employees commit crimes while using company vehicles, or are they? If that’s the case, why have employees? Why even bother getting up in the morning if you can be held responsible for someone else’s acts?

    If I understand this correctly, someone is in prison just because they loaned out their vehicle, but was in no way shape or form involved in the crime, other than their vehicle being used in the crime without their knowledge?

    This makes my blood boil.

  4. Andrew Flusche
    December 5th, 2007

    Hey guys,

    I appreciate your comments. Perhaps I didn’t explain the news story clearly.

    The car owner knew about the burglary, but he claims that he thought his friends were joking. His friends even talked about possibly “knocking out” the victim. If you read the whole NY Times article, you’ll see these tidbits.

    And I don’t think I explained felony murder correctly – you have to be involved in the felony. Simply loaning your car to a friend isn’t enough. You have to know that they’re going to use it for a felony. You have to be chargeable with the felony itself. Then, if someone gets killed in the process, you’re on the hook for murder.

    Does that make more sense?

  5. Andrew Flusche
    December 5th, 2007

    I almost forgot – I’ll have to cover crazy torts cases in a future post. There’s plenty of them to go around. 🙂

  6. Shark Girl
    December 6th, 2007

    There is hope for America’s justice system yet. My blood stopped boiling. 🙂

  7. Modern Living Room Furniture
    December 6th, 2007

    Thanks for the explanation, and I look forward to your crazy tort post.

  8. Charlie
    February 17th, 2008

    Since when was the US in the commonwealth?

  9. Andrew Flusche
    February 17th, 2008

    Charlie – The reference to “commonwealth” above is referring to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Some states (like Virginia) refer to their government that way.

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