Sep 6

Five Illinois teenagers were charged under the felony murder rule for their role in a car theft gone wrong, according to an article by WTTW

These teenagers and an accomplice were attempting to steal an elderly man’s vehicle in Lake County, but the elderly man resisted and refused to turn over his vehicle. The elderly man ultimately pulled out a gun and fired, striking and killing the accomplice.

Even though the teenagers did not actually cause the death of their accomplice, they were in the process of committing a forcible felony together. In this type of situation, the teenagers can face first-degree murder charges, even without firing the fatal bullet. This is referred to as the felony murder rule. 

To understand the legal significance of the felony murder rule, it will be necessary to first review the definition of a forcible felony. Then it will be possible to analyze the definition of and penalties for first-degree murder. 

What is the Illinois Definition of a Forcible Felony?

720 ILCS 5/2-8 indicates the Illinois definition of a forcible felony. Under this section, the term forcible felony refers to any of the criminal acts below:

  • Treason;
  • Robbery;
  • Burglary (both the standard and residential versions);
  • Murder (first or second degree);
  • Predatory Criminal Sexual Assault of a Child;
  • Criminal Sexual Assault (both the standard and aggravated versions);
  • Arson (both the standard and aggravated versions);
  • Kidnapping (both the standard and aggravated versions);
  • Aggravated Battery, if the act includes the infliction of serious bodily harm, disability, or disfigurement; and 
  • Other Felonies, if the act involves force or violence or the threat of force or violence. 

What is the Illinois Definition of First-Degree Murder?

720 ILCS 5/9-1 details the Illinois definition of first-degree murder. Under this section, a person commits first-degree murder if they cause the death of someone else while:

  • Intending to kill or inflict serious bodily harm;
  • Knowing that their actions carry a significant risk of death or serious bodily harm; or
  • Attempting or committing a forcible felony, outside of second-degree murder.

There is an important distinction under Section 5/9-1. If a person has lawful justification — such as a police officer who kills a dangerous suspect while performing official duties — first-degree murder charges are not appropriate. 

What are the Illinois Penalties for First-Degree Murder?

730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-20 underlines the Illinois penalties for first-degree murder. Depending on the circumstances of the offense, the confinement period for first-degree murder is either:

  • 20 to 60 years in prison;
  • 60 to 100 years in prison for an extended term; or
  • Natural life in prison. 

In addition to the prison sentences above, a person who commits first-degree murder may have to pay criminal fines and restitution as well. Furthermore, Illinois law does not permit probation or conditional discharge for first-degree murder offenses.

Do You Need Legal Help?

No matter what the criminal offense, all charges are serious. A sound strategy and an aggressive defense are essential for a positive outcome. To protect your rights in such situations, it is highly advisable to retain legal counsel from an experienced criminal defense attorney.

The Prior Law Firm in Bloomington, Illinois, has proven experience in matters of criminal defense. If you need legal help with criminal defense, contact us today for a free consultation. You can reach The Prior Law Firm by phone at (309) 827-4300, email at or by completing an online form.