States have multiple murder laws. Typically, the type of murder charge depends on the circumstances and evidence available in a case.
Felony murder is a special type of charge. It is much different from other murder charges. The Springfield News-Leader explains felony murder occurs when a person is involved in felony activity that results in the death of someone.
The biggest distinguishing factor of felony murder is that it does not require intent. First-degree murder, which is similar, does require intent. Typically, the prosecution must prove for any homicide charge that the accused knew or should have known his or her actions would lead to a death. With felony murder, the accused does not have to even have the means by which to kill someone to face charges. He or she does not have to act in any way that could take a life. The mere fact he or she was participating in a felony when a death occurs is enough.
Another distinguishing factor is that felony murder does not require the accused to commit the crime. A person can face this charge even if they were not in the area when the death occurred. The only factor required is they were involved in a felony at the time the death occurred. For example, if a person is driving the getaway car and never enters the building during a robbery, but a co-suspect kills someone during the robbery, the getaway driver could face felony murder charges.
The victim also does not have to be an innocent bystander. If a co-suspect dies during the commission of a felony, then the other suspects can face felony murder charges.
Felony murder carries the same penalties as first-degree charges. You could face life in prison or the death penalty.