My friend posted me this scenario:

An armed man robs a bank. As he's exiting the building, he accidentally bumps into a lady, and her gun misfires, resulting in her hitting her femoral artery and dying.

Is this considered homicide? I assumed that the fact that he created the situation that resulted in her death, it would be manslaughter.

What is the answer?

  • What kind of an accidental bump should it be to trigger a gun…
    – PF4Public
    Dec 9, 2019 at 19:35
  • It's obvious that this wouldn't happen.
    – Nathaniel
    Dec 9, 2019 at 19:36
  • You'll need to specify the country. Because in mostly-socialist countries like mine where criminals have more rights than righteous people, murdering someone like this might very well count as merely "negligent killing". Murder is: a) kill for the desire of killing or for sexual arousal, or b) kill for greed or low motives, and do so perfidiously (i.e. victim is unsuspecting), or with means that threaten the general public, or to cover another criminal act. So... shooting someone while exiting the bank (or openly, victim expecting to be shot) wouldn't be murder in the strictest sense.
    – Damon
    Dec 9, 2019 at 19:51
  • 2
    @Damon Where do you live? I think the important distinction is not socialist/non-socialist, but between common-law and civil law countries. In the common law, this case would be covered by the doctrine of felony murder. I have no idea what would happen in a civil law system.
    – Just a guy
    Dec 9, 2019 at 20:06

3 Answers 3


Can be tried as first-degree murder, actually. See below.

felony murder doctrine

n. a rule of criminal statutes that any death which occurs during the commission of a felony is first degree murder, and all participants in that felony or attempted felony can be charged with and found guilty of murder. A typical example is a robbery involving more than one criminal, in which one of them shoots, beats to death or runs over a store clerk, killing the clerk. Even if the death were accidental, all of the participants can be found guilty of felony murder, including those who did no harm, had no gun, and/or did not intend to hurt anyone. In a bizarre situation, if one of the holdup men or women is killed, his/her fellow robbers can be charged with murder.

  • That's exactly what I thought. Even some police officers were against me.
    – Nathaniel
    Dec 9, 2019 at 19:35
  • @Nathaniel : I'm not sure if you saw, but I did edit my response to specify that this only applies in certain common law jurisdictions so this definitely not a law in every state, county, city, or town. This may be why there was some confusion.
    – jlmays
    Dec 9, 2019 at 19:39
  • 2
    Where is your citation from? Link? Dec 9, 2019 at 19:42
  • @jlmays Two small points: According to Wikipedia, felony murder is a crime in 46 states. Many of those have codified common law crimes, including felony murder. In those states, felony murder is now a matter of statute, not common law, although common law cases may still have precedential value.
    – Just a guy
    Dec 9, 2019 at 20:01
  • In this case as described, the robber actually killed the woman. With felony murder, that's not even required for a murder conviction. If an armed police officer shot at the robber, missed, and killed the innocent lady, the robber could still go down for murder. The fact that she died as a consequence of the armed robbery makes the robber guilty (in many US states).
    – gnasher729
    Dec 10, 2019 at 0:01

The crime you are asking about is called felony murder. Felony murder has two unique features:

First, killing someone while committing a felony is automatically considered first degree murder.

Second, everyone who participates, not matter how remotely, in the felony can be charged with first degree murder.

In this example, suppose the bank robber had a getaway driver. Because he was part of a felony, he could also be charged with first degree murder under the felony murder doctrine.

Under West Virginia law, felony murder is considered first degree murder. Art. 2, §61-2-1, of the West Virginia Code says:

Murder...in the commission of…robbery...is murder of the first degree.


People usually don't run around with a loaded gun in their hand. So this isn't an accident. If you have a gun, you are normally required to keep it separate from the ammunition. If you load it, you have to put the safety on. If you don't put the safety on, you have to handle it very carefully, not runnig round and bumping into people, but having it firmly under your control and not pointing it into the direction of people. This is ridiculously far away from negligence or even gross negligence.

In Germany, it would be murder. You created intentionally a situation where you knew or should have known that people could get hurt or even killed, and you didn't care. You don't have to intend to kill someone, it's enough to knowingly create a dangerous situation and not care that someone could be killed.

In the USA, in many states the fact that someone died as a result of a crime you committed will count as murder. That has included cases where two people committed a (serious) crime and one was killed by a security guard - the other went to court for murder.

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