A recent incident in Chicago involving a group of six teenagers and a 75-year-old man has resulted in felony murder charges against five of the teens. According to police, as the group of teenagers were attempting to steal a car in a north suburb, the man approached the teens and shot and killed one of them in what he claims was an act of self-defense, and the remaining five fled the scene and were eventually apprehended.
Although none of the teens pulled the trigger, Illinois' felony murder law allows prosecutors to charge a perpetrator with murder if someone dies while a forcible felony is committed.
Professor Andrew Leipold, a criminal law and procedure expert, spoke with NBC News and the Chicago Tribune regarding the charges.
He said the felony murder charge is meant to send a strong message of deterrence.
"The idea is: Don't do felonies, and if you do, you're taking on the risk that you can be charged even if you didn't intend for something bad to happen," Leipold said. "States have taken different views. The theory is it's a greater deterrence if you say, 'No excuses, no exceptions. You started down this road and if anything happens, it's on you.'"
As for the man who pulled the trigger, the Illinois statute addressing self-defense states that a person is justified in the use of force if that individual “reasonably believes” that such action is necessary to defend against “imminent use of unlawful force.”
Leipold said that much of it depends on the exact circumstances, which are not yet publicly known.
“The key language is ‘reasonably believes,’” Leipold said. “It means you don’t have to be right, you just have to be reasonable. … If the homeowner reasonably believed (he was in fear for his life), that’s good enough to justify his actions.”
Read more at NBCNews.com and ChicagoTribune.com.