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Judiciary panel lays over felony murder law reform bill

Minnesota’s aiding and abetting felony murder laws allow people to be charged and convicted of murder even if they did not kill anyone nor intend for anyone to die.

While those can be just laws if applied properly, in many cases they are not, and people can be unjustly sentenced for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, says Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul).

“We should limit this doctrine of aiding and abetting felony murder to certain situations where the person involved has a strong culpability for a death,” he said.

Pinto sponsors HF4174, which would limit the charge of murder to those who commit a killing, directly aid and abet the murderer, or acted with such reckless disregard for human life. It would also implement recommendations in a February report issued by the Task Force on Aiding and Abetting Felony Murder.

The House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee laid the bill over, as amended, Tuesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

A person could not be charged, under the bill, with first-degree murder unless he or she intentionally intended to cause the death of a human being. Prosecutors could not seek a conviction for second-degree murder unless a person was “a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with extreme indifference to human life.”

Individuals currently serving sentences for the relevant provisions of first- or second-degree murder could petition to have those convictions vacated.

“Reform is urgent,” wrote Gregory Egan, assistant Ramsey County public defender and chair of the task force. “The current aiding and abetting felony-murder statutory framework is resulting in punishment wildly disproportionate to individuals’ underlying culpability.”

Sen. Zach Duckworth (R-Lakeville) sponsors the companion, SF3840, which awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

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