This is a hypothetical question, but I can use current news as an example.

In some jurisdictions, I believe an arsonist can be charged with manslaughter if a fireman dies while fighting the fire, even if the fireman makes a fatal mistake while fighting it.

In the arrest of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, since Floyd allegedly committed a crime which caused the situation that led to a fatal mistake, couldn't that fact be used to charge Floyd with his own death? And if so, would that alter Chauvin's (and future police officers') sentencing?

  • 1
    Who says Floyd committed a crime? Some shop assistant made a claim and since has publicly said that he regretted it. Derek Chauvin committed a felony. Well, he’ll be in court soon for felony tax evasion, so likely more than one.
    – gnasher729
    May 5 at 17:11
  • @gnasher729 Then pretend Floyd committed arson and was caught at the scene.
    – kackle123
    May 7 at 13:28
  • But he didn’t so what sense does this make? Are you saying the police pretends he committed arson? He was quietly sitting in his car when he was arrested, with a gun pointed at his head.
    – gnasher729
    May 8 at 19:18
  • @gnasher729 I apologize; let me try to be clearer: "Bob" commits arson by lighting a building on fire. Policeman "John" catches Bob at the scene, and while arresting him, kneels on his neck, accidentally killing Bob. Bob initiated the scenario and wouldn't have died otherwise. Does that change anything when it comes to John's negligence, considering that Bob would have been charged if a fireman had died in the fire (even if due to the fireman's mistake), as the fire scenario was initiated by Bob? Neither the fireman's nor Bob's death would have occurred if Bob hadn't committed the crime.
    – kackle123
    May 12 at 0:54


In many but not all common law jurisdictions, a person who comitts an "inherently dangerous" crime can be found guilt of "felony murder" (not manslaughter).

The Wikipedia article says:

In most jurisdictions, to qualify as an underlying offense for a felony murder charge, the underlying offense must present a foreseeable danger to life, and the link between the offense and the death must not be too remote. For example, if the recipient of a forged check has a fatal allergic reaction to the ink, most courts will not hold the forger guilty of murder, as the cause of death is too remote from the criminal act.

Floyd was arrested on an accusation that he passed a counterfeit $20 bill. This is not an "inherently dangerous" felony. Nor has it ever been established that he had the criminal intent that would have been required to convict him of a crime. Indeed it has not been proved that he knew the bill was counterfeit. But a finding of criminal intent to commit the underlying felony is essential to invoking teh felony murder rule. MN code 609.632 subdivision 3 requires "intent to defraud" and "having reason to know that the money order, currency, note, or obligation or security is forged, counterfeited, falsely made, altered, or printed". Moreover when the value is under $1,000 the possible penalties are much lighter and may not even be a felony.

In any case passing a phoney $20 is not the kind of offense for which the felony murder rule is normally invoked, nor is being killed by an arresting officer a plausible, outcome, althoguh obviously it is possible.

Further sources

The University of Minnesota's page on "felony Murder" says:

When the defendant commits a felony that is inherently dangerous to life, he or she does so knowing that some innocent victim may die. In essence, this awareness is similar to implied malice, knowingly, or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. What is difficult to justify is a conviction for felony murder when the felony is not inherently dangerous to life. Thus most jurisdictions limit the felony murder doctrine to felonies that create a foreseeable risk of violence or death. ...

Joaquin, who has just lost his job, decides to burn down his apartment building because he can’t afford to pay the rent. Joaquin carefully soaks his apartment with lighter fluid, exits into the hallway, and throws a lit, lighter-fluid-soaked towel into the apartment. He then runs outside to watch the entire building burn down. Several tenants die of smoke inhalation because of the fire. In jurisdictions that recognize felony murder, Joaquin can probably be charged with and convicted of murder for every one of these deaths.

In this example, Joaquin did not intend to kill the tenants. However, he did most likely have the criminal intent necessary for arson. Therefore, felony murder convictions are appropriate. Note that Joaquin exhibited extreme indifference to whether the tenants in the building lived or died, which could also constitute the criminal intent of implied malice or depraved heart.

The Minnesota code Section 609.19 MURDER IN THE SECOND DEGREE says:

Subd. 2.Unintentional murders.

Whoever does either of the following is guilty of unintentional murder in the second degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 40 years:

(1) causes the death of a human being, without intent to effect the death of any person, while committing or attempting to commit a felony offense other than criminal sexual conduct in the first or second degree with force or violence or a drive-by shooting;

[Paragraph (2) deals with death "while intentionally inflicting or attempting to inflict bodily harm upon the victim" which clearly does not apply in this case.]



Dead people can't be charged with crimes (although their estates can be sued for money damages in lawsuits or via claims in the probate process).

Pending criminal cases against a defendant are dismissed when the defendant dies by operation of law.

If a direct appeal of a lower court conviction of defendant of a crime was pending at the time of death, the conviction is also vacated. A collateral attack of a conviction after it has been affirmed on direct appeal (which is a civil action) does not vacate the conviction, however.

A 2007 law review article by Razel discusses the relevant legal doctrine, which is called "abatement."


In England & Wales, it is possible to be an accessory to one's own attempted murder, due to the doctrine of joint enterprise. Admittedly, this requires highly unusual circumstances, such as those seen in the leading case of R v Gnango [2011] UKSC 59. This case involved the memorable circumstances of the defendant engaging in a shootout in a street with an unknown party known only as 'Bandana Man'; by agreeing to engage in the shootout, he had engaged in a joint enterprise for the attempted murder of himself!

To quote from the judgment *per * Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers PSC:

  1. If the respondent aided, abetted, counselled and procured Bandana Man to shoot at him he was, on my analysis, guilty of aiding and abetting the attempted murder of himself. Had he been killed by Bandana Man, he would have been a party to his own murder. Although he had not intended that Bandana Man should succeed in hitting him, complicity in his attempt to do so would have rendered him a party to the successful achievement of that attempt. As it was, Bandana Man accidentally shot Miss Pniewska. Under the doctrine of transferred malice he was liable for her murder. Under the same doctrine, the respondent, if he had aided abetted, counselled and procured the attempt, was party to the murder that resulted. Does it follow that, having regard to the terms of the judge’s directions, the jury must have been satisfied that the respondent had aided, abetted, counselled and procured Bandana Man to shoot at him with murderous intent? If so, his conviction can stand. If not, the Court of Appeal correctly quashed it.

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