Copyright (c) 2001 Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University
Southern Illinois University Law Journal
ARTICLE: Felony Murder in Illinois The "Agency Theory" vs. the "Proximate Cause Theory": The Debate Continues
25 S. Ill. U. L. J. 331
James W. Hilliard*
Consider two hypotheticals. In the first, the defendant and her co-felon are committing a forcible or violent felony, such as robbery. While committing that crime, the felony victim fatally shoots a bystander, 1 the co- felon, 2 or himself. 3 Is the defendant guilty of murder?
In the second hypothetical, the defendant and her co-felon have committed the robbery and are escaping from the scene of the felony. In an attempt to capture them, the felony victim, a law enforcement officer or a bystander fatally shoots another officer or bystander, or the co-felon. 4 Is the defendant guilty of murder?
Whether the defendants in these hypotheticals are guilty of murder depends on which general theory of the felony murder rule the jurisdiction recognizes. Under the Illinois felony murder rule, a person is guilty of first degree murder if a death occurs when that person is attempting or committing a forcible felony other than second degree murder. 5
Illinois follows the "proximate cause theory" of felony murder. Under this theory, there is no requirement that a defendant be the person who both attempts or commits the felony and who performs the act that kills the victim. 6 Rather, criminal liability attaches under the felony murder rule for any death proximately resulting from the forcible felony or attempted forcible felony. The identity of the actual killer is irrelevant. 7
In contrast, there exists an "agency theory" of felony ...
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