In August of 2006 the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in the case of Heemstra vs. The State of Iowa that the Felony Murder Rule could only be used if a felony was committed independently of the murder. In the Heemstra case he was charged with a felony for pointing a gun at the victim before shooting and killing him. Since this was not a separate felony independent of the murder Heemstra’s first degree murder conviction was thrown out.
The court later ruled that this would not be retroactive. Meaning that people who have in the past been convicted of first degree murder using the felony murder rule even though the felony was not independent of the murder would not be able to appeal there cases. This means that two people charged with the same crime will and have received completely different sentences. How is it legal to treat two people convicted of the same crime differently? How can this be considered justice?
The Iowa Justice Project is a non profit organization dedicated to seeing the injustice reversed and that all people are treated equally for the crimes that they commit.
Under Iowa law a person commits felony murder when the person commits a murder while participating in the commission of a forcible felony. A person convicted of felony murder is guilty of murder in the first degree and this crime is punishable as a class “A” felony which carries a sentence of life imprisonment.
A “forcible felony” is defined as any felonious child endangerment, assault, murder, sexual abuse, kidnapping, robbery, arson in the first degree, or burglary in the first degree.
In the Heemstra case the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the Felony Murder Rule could not be used it the felony was not a seperate crime from the murder. For more information on this case click on the link provided.
Analysis-Felony Murder. The Supreme Court held that a forcible felony must be committed independent of the murder in order for the felony-murder rule to apply. The Court reasoned the commission of any forcible felony that immediately proceeds a murder could “bootstrap” any charge into a murder in the first degree and all the distinctions between murder in the first degree and murder in the second degree would disappear. The Court concluded a person pointing a gun at a person (willful injury) and then immediately murdering that person is all one action and the acts merge into just one crime. The Court essentially stated that if the forcible felony merges into the same actions as murder (i.e. pointing the gun and then shooting the gun), then the prosecution must prove a forcible felony independent of the murder for the felony-murder rule to apply (i.e. robbing a store then shooting a clerk while leaving the store).
Opinion Ameded by Order of Court. After the original opinion in this case was filed by the Supreme Court on August 25, 2006, a petition for rehearing was filed. The court amended the original opinion. The Supreme Court held that the rule of law announced in this case is applicable only to the Heemstra case and any other case not resolved on direct appeal in which the issue has been raised in district court. Rehearing was denied.