The felony murder rule differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the basic idea is that person A has violated someone's rights by committing a crime, during which his actions caused someone to die, and so person A is charged with some level of murder (generally first degree). Note that "caused someone to die" does not necessarily mean that person A, for example, was the one who pulled the trigger on the gun. It could be holding a hostage, who is then killed by a police officer's errant shot, for example. The above article is wrong (or rather, oversimplifying) to say that every death occurring during a felony will result in felony murder. There must be some causal connection to the felon's actions. The causal connection does not need to be the same as it would for other types of murder, however. Thus, if you rob a bank and the manager is in a room upstairs and has a fatal heart attack without any knowledge of the ongoing robbery, you would not be liable for felony murder--there is no causal connection. On the other hand, you would be liable if you caused the manager's fatal heart attack by scarring him with the gun you are waiving around.
Whether these laws are "objective" is a question with a complex answer. Clearly the actual language of any given law will be important to determining whether it is objective, but as for the idea itself, I believe that it is proper. Causing harm to another person by initiating physical force is a rights violation, and thus is actionable by the government. Thus, if we assume that the death caused by the felon's actions constitutes a rights violation (which it would under most felony murder laws, with their causation requirements), then the only remaining question is how severely the government should deal with the actions, not whether they should. What we do in response to any given rights violation, however, depends on a number of things. We do not punish all rights violations criminally, and we generally punish criminal violations to different degrees. Generally, the level of culpability of the rights violation plays a big role in how we treat it. Non-intentional rights violations ("accidents") are generally not criminal matters, while intentional generally are. However, this is not, nor should it be, a hard and fast rule. Some non-intentional actions are so culpable that they deserve criminal punishment (e.g., manslaughter) and some intentional actions are civil matters (e.g., intentionally breaching a contract). With regard to felony murder, the culpability is increased by the fact that the actions that caused the death were done during and/or in furtherance of the commission of a felony. While the actions themselves, dissociated from the felony, might not have risen to the level of culpability required for regular murder, committing the actions during and/or in furtherance of a felony makes them much more culpable, and thus justifies treating those actions more harshly.
For example, if I am rushing somewhere without paying attention and knock you over onto the subway track and you die as a result, I am likely negligent and will likely be liable to your survivors for civil damages, but my culpability will likely not rise to a level high enough to justify criminal charges. Consider, however, an almost identical situation in which I rob you on the subway platform, and equally as accidentally as in the first case, I knock you over in the process and you die as before. Clearly, although the "knocking over" in each case, if considered in isolation is identical and accidental, the culpability in each case is vastly different. The "knocking over" in the second case cannot be viewed in isolation, but must be considered in the entire context, which makes it clear that I am much more culpable. The degree of culpability and the appropriate punishment is a fairly debatable matter--perhaps first degree murder is too sever for every felony murder. But that is a detail; the concept itself is correct.
answered Oct 20 '12 at 16:36