The common law felonies were the nine common-law felony offenses: murder, robbery, manslaughter, rape, sodomy, larceny, arson, mayhem, and burglary.
Many students remember these using the mnemonic device “MR & MRS LAMB.”
Note that this list agrees with some sources and not others. If we examine Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, we can find several that aren’t listed in any list of “common law felonies.” I follow Cornell Law School’s Wex here. See the comments below for variants.
Common law felonies refer to a set of nine offenses that were recognized under the English common law and later adopted by the American legal system. These offenses were considered to be the most serious crimes at the time and were punishable by severe penalties, including death. The nine common-law felonies were murder, robbery, manslaughter, rape, sodomy, larceny, arson, mayhem, and burglary.
Murder was the most serious of the common-law felonies, and it involved the intentional killing of another person with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought referred to a deliberate intent to kill or cause serious bodily harm to another person. Murder was punishable by death and was considered to be the ultimate crime.
Robbery was another serious offense under the common law and involved the taking of property from another person by force or threat of force. Robbery was considered to be a violent crime and was punishable by severe penalties, including imprisonment and fines.
Manslaughter was a lesser offense than murder and involved the killing of another person without malice aforethought. Manslaughter was typically the result of recklessness or negligence on the part of the offender and was punishable by imprisonment and fines.
Rape and sodomy were both considered to be sexual offenses under the common law. Rape involved non-consensual sexual intercourse with another person, while sodomy involved non-consensual sexual acts between persons of the same sex. Both offenses were punishable by imprisonment and fines.
Larceny was a property crime under the common law and involved the theft of personal property from another person. Larceny was considered to be a serious offense and was punishable by imprisonment and fines.
Arson was another serious property crime under the common law and involved the intentional setting of fire to a building or other structure. Arson was considered to be a dangerous crime that posed a significant threat to public safety and was punishable by severe penalties, including imprisonment and fines.
Mayhem was a violent offense under the common law that involved the disfigurement or disabling of another person. Mayhem was typically committed during the course of a fight or altercation and was punishable by imprisonment and fines.
Burglary was a property crime under the common law that involved unlawful entry into a dwelling or structure with the intent to commit a crime, typically theft. Burglary was considered to be a serious offense and was punishable by imprisonment and fines.
The common law felonies were the foundation of the American legal system and have been incorporated into the criminal codes of most states. While the specific penalties for these offenses may vary from state to state, the fundamental principles of these offenses remain the same. Common law felonies continue to be recognized as some of the most serious crimes under the law, and they carry severe penalties, including imprisonment, fines, and even death in some cases.
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Last Modified: 04/06/2023