SB 1437 Offers Freedom for People Wrongly Convicted as Murder Accomplices in California
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California is giving a second chance to hundreds of individuals serving prison time for murders they did not commit.
Senate Bill 1437 scales back prosecutors’ ability to use the “felony murder rule” to charge accomplices to a homicide. It also allows inmates locked up for felony murder to apply for re-sentencing.
Under SB 1437, a person can only be convicted of felony murder if they directly assisted with the homicide or if they were “a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life.”
What Does SB 1437 Do?
Senate Bill 1437 makes significant changes to Penal Code sections 188 and 189. SB 1437 effectively ends the role of the “natural and probable consequences” doctrine in murder cases. It makes it harder for people to be convicted of felony murder, and allows many inmates already convicted of felony murder to be re-sentenced to a lower sentence.
Under SB 1437, a person can only be guilty of “felony murder” if:
The person is the actual killer.
The person acted with intent to kill, such as assisting the actual killer, or encouraging the actual killer to kill the victim.
The person was a major participant in the crime who acted with “reckless indifference to human life.”
The victim was a police officer, who was killed on the job, and “the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was a peace officer engaged in the performance of his or her duties.”
In determining whether a person was a “major participant” in a crime, the court may consider:
What role did the defendant have in planning the criminal enterprise that led to one or more deaths?
What role did the defendant have in supplying or using lethal weapons?
What awareness did the defendant have of particular dangers posed by the nature of the crime, weapons used, or past experience or conduct of the other participants?
Was the defendant present at the scene of the killing, in a position to facilitate or prevent the actual murder, and did his or her own actions or inaction play a particular role in the death?
What did the defendant do after lethal force was used?
In determining whether a person acted with “reckless indifference to human life,” the court may consider:
Knowledge of weapons, and use and number of weapons
Physical presence at the crime and opportunities to restrain the crime and/or aid the victim;
Duration of the felony;
The defendant’s knowledge of a cohort’s likelihood of killing; and
The defendant’s efforts to minimize the risks of the violence during the felony.
For example, participating in a robbery where the defendant believed that there were no bullets in the gun, among other things, is likely not considered “reckless indifference to human life.” See People v. Clark (2016) 63 Cal 4th 522.
Who Can Be Resentenced Under SB 1437?
Someone convicted of first degree murder.
Someone convicted of second degree murder.
Someone that accepted a plea offer, who could have been convicted of first degree or second degree murder, had he or she proceeded to trial, or who could not be convicted of first or second degree murder under the new law.
If you could have been charged with murder, using the current legal definition of murder, then you are not eligible to be re-sentenced.
How to Win Your SB 1437 Application
To win your SB 1437 application, you or your appeals attorney must file a petition with the court that originally sentenced you, declaring that you are eligible for re-sentencing. Your attorney must also include the court case number, and the year that you were convicted, as well as the supporting arguments and materials necessary. Your lawyer must then serve the petition on the district attorney, and on the attorney that represented you in the criminal trial.
In your petition, your appeals lawyer will need to establish that you are eligible for re-sentencing. To do this, he or she will need to include facts, proof, and legal arguments in your petition. Your attorney may even offer new evidence to support your petition. The government may oppose your petition.
If the court thinks that you are eligible to be re-sentenced, then the court will hold a hearing. At the hearing, the prosecutor must establish that you should not be re-sentenced. If the prosecutor fails to do this, the judge will order a re-sentencing. Alternatively, the prosecutor may agree that you are eligible for re-sentencing.
When you were originally sentenced, if the trial court determined that you were not a major participant in the felony, then you can now be re-sentenced under SB 1437. After re-sentencing, you will be given credit for time served.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney Today
SB 1437 offers hope to hundreds of Californians — both those convicted of felony murder and their loved ones. It also represents progress in the move towards criminal justice reform, as it is a significant step toward more equitable prosecution for crimes.
At Unite the People, we are fierce advocates for our clients. From the initial arrest to the final appeal, we stand by you through the process. This includes working with you on petitions for re-sentencing if you have been convicted of felony murder.
While not every person convicted of felony murder will be eligible for re-sentencing, this law offers an opportunity for you or your loved one to gain freedom. We can advise you on eligibility and help you through the process. Contact us today at (888)245-9393 or Click Here to Book a Free Consultation.