In September 2018, the Governor of California signed legislation that reformed the state’s approach to accomplice liability in felony murder cases. Significantly, CA Senate Bill (SB) 1437 will have a retroactive effect.
Under SB 1437, people convicted under the old felony murder law can apply to have their sentences reduced. If you or a loved one has been convicted of murder for their role in a felony that resulted in someone’s death, it is likely that these reforms apply to you.
California Changed the Old Felony Murder Law
Before CA SB 1437 went into effect, you could be convicted of felony murder if you committed, aided, or abetted to commit a felony, and any person died as a result. It would not matter if you did not actually kill the victim, or even if the death was accidental.
According to the new law, to convict you of felony murder, a prosecutor must demonstrate that you committed a felony, or aided or abetted a felony. Additionally, they will need to prove one of the following:
- You killed a person
- You aided or abetted the killing, which means proving your intent to kill
- You were a major participant in the felony, and you acted with reckless indifference
- Your actions caused the death of a peace officer who was exercising their duties
What’s Different Under the New Felony Murder Law?
The essential difference between the old law and the new law is that now, prosecutors have to prove your intent or state of mind — unless you actually killed someone, or the person who died was a peace officer. Previously, you could get convicted of felony murder as long as someone got killed in a felony that you were involved in. It didn’t matter what your state of mind was. Now, prosecutors may have to prove one of two kinds of state of mind:
The prosecutor may show that you intended for the victim to die in various ways. For example, a witness could testify that you told an accomplice “to get rid of him.” There may also be evidence that you provided the murder weapon to the killer shortly before the act.
When proving recklessness, the prosecutor doesn’t need to show that you intended to kill. Instead, they need to show that you did not care if death occurred. In this case, evidence that you were present and did nothing to stop a killing despite having some power to intervene may be enough to show reckless indifference.
Proving your “state of mind” adds an extra level of protection, which conforms to the general rule that someone can only get convicted for crimes that they intended to commit. The only time state of mind doesn’t matter is when an officer is killed, or you actually kill the victim. These aggravating circumstances make it so your state of mind doesn’t matter.
Convicted Under the Old Law? You May Qualify for Resentencing
CA SB 1437 makes you eligible for resentencing if all of the following applies:
- You were prosecuted under the natural probable consequences theory. This means that you were charged with felony murder and did not directly kill the victim. Rather, the prosecutor argued that the victim’s death was the natural and probable result of the felony you committed.
- You were convicted of first or second-degree murder. The conviction could have been entered after a guilty verdict from a jury, or a plea deal. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you were convicted after a trial or not.
Have Questions About CA SB 1437? Contact a Los Angeles Appeals Lawyer Now
If you think there is any chance that the above factors apply to your case or that of a loved one, you should speak to an experienced Southern California criminal appeals lawyer as soon as possible. You may be in a position to petition the court for a resentencing hearing.
This could result in receiving a lighter sentence or even your freedom. To find out more about sentencing options for felony murder, call Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816, or reach out online to schedule a free case evaluation.