In Pennsylvania, felony murder is listed as a subsection in the state’s second degree murder statute. 8 Pa. Stat. C.S.. Ann. § 2502.

Prosecutors can charge and convict any person of second degree murder without having to prove that they intended to cause another person’s death. Prosecutors must only prove that a person or an accomplice committed another specified felony and that a death occurred. There is no possibility in Pennsylvania for a person charged with felony murder to raise an affirmative defense–i.e. that he or she acted under duress, that they weren’t armed and had no reason to believe another participant was armed or intended to engage in conduct likely to result in death.

A conviction for felony murder in Pennsylvania mandates a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Analysis: Race

Race and Conviction Rate

In Pennsylvania, you are 17.1942 times more likely to be incarcerated for felony murder if you are Black than if you are white.

Black 17.1942x

Disproportionate Representation

While Black individuals account for only 12% of Pennsylvania’s population


they make up 47% of all incarcerated people


and 71% of those incarcerated for felony murder.


In terms of gender, women make up 3.27% of felony murder convictions.

In Allegheny, Delaware, and Philadelphia counties, the overwhelming majority of those convicted of felony murder are Black.

  • 83%

    Of those convicted of felony murder are Black in Allegheny County, which includes the city of Pittsburgh.

  • 80%

    Of those convicted of felony murder are Black in Delaware County.

  • 87%

    Of those convicted of felony murder are Black in Philadelphia.

Analysis: Harsh Sentences

In Pennsylvania, 11.56% of all murder convictions are for felony murder. That's:

1,131 persons incarcerated for felony murder.

All are sentenced to life in prison.

Analysis: Youthful Impact

Young people in Pennsylvania are disproportionately impacted by the felony murder rule.

  • 33

    Median age at time of admission for all crimes

  • 25

    Median age at time of admission for felony murder

  • 19

    Persons incarcerated for felony murder in Pennsylvania that were younger than 18* at the time of their admission.

    *Of these young persons, 63.16% of them are Black.

*Note: Note: in Pennsylvania we did not have access to age at the time of the offense which would likely increase these numbers.

Data Request Process

Data Request Process Grade 4.8 / 5 (A)
Factors Supporting Grade
Request Responsiveness
Financial Accessibility
No Residency Required
Appeal Responsiveness

*These factors track the process--i.e. the effort and obstacles--for obtaining data from individual states under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and appeals process. These factors do not measure the quality of the data; only the process of attempting to obtain the data.

How We Collected Our Data

We created our dataset by examining Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) data for people whose charge was listed as “Murder (2nd Degree).” In Pennsylvania, felony murder and second degree murder are synonymous.

In assessing the data, we consulted with Bret Grot, the legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center, who advised that we exclude all records of individuals sentenced to second degree murder but not given a life sentence. Per statutory requirements, all second degree murder convictions must be given a life or life without parole sentence. Out of an abundance of caution, we omitted these 16 individuals from our analysis. These data were obtained through a public records request filed under the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law. This analysis encompasses those convicted of felony murder as of March 2023.

Access the Data

Learn more about how you can contribute to transparency when it comes to felony murder.

This analysis encompasses those convicted of felony murder as of March 2023.