The felony murder rule is understood by most attorneys but can be confusing to the general public. The basic rule is that a person can be charged with murder if they are involved in a felony crime that leads to the death of another person, even if that person wasn't actively involved in the murder.
The classic example involves a getaway driver. A group of people plan to rob a gas station and the driver drops them off. During the robbery, the gas station clerk is shot and killed. The group runs out and gets in the car, and the driver takes off. In this example, the driver never entered the store and simply sat in the car waiting for the other group members. However, because of the felony murder rule, the driver could be charged with murder due to the death of the attendant.
However, a bill is moving through the California legislature that would place strict limits on the use of the felony murder rule. Proponents of the bill argue that the rule disproportionately affects women and minorities while also stating that the punishment under the rule was not proportionate to their crime. Opponents have argued that the bill takes away a powerful deterrent while possibly limiting the ability of prosecutors to tackle gang crimes.