Senate Bill 1437 was passed in 2019 to allow individuals convicted of certain murder charges to get a reduced sentence. On August 8, 2022, the California Supreme Court decided in a case called People v. Christopher Strong that some special circumstance findings in murder cases do not automatically preclude defendants from resentencing relief under SB 1437.
Who Is Eligible for SB 1437 Relief?
You may be eligible for a reduced sentenced under SB 1437 if you were convicted of felony murder, special circumstances felony murder, manslaughter, or attempted murder. You can be eligible if you accepted a plea offer or were convicted by a jury.
The law applies retroactively to anyone who has already been sentenced as well as new cases, if the following apply:
- The defendant was not a substantial actor in the murder; and
- The defendant did not “act with reckless indifference to human life.”
Specifically, the defendant must have been convicted under the accomplice liability theory for felony murder or natural and probable consequence doctrine.
Originally, people who were convicted of “special circumstance” felony murder had petitions denied or stayed because of the special circumstances of their case. However, with the Strong case ruling, the California Supreme Court held that special circumstances do not automatically bar defendants from seeking SB 1437 relief to vacate a conviction and get resentenced to achieve a reduced sentence.
What Is Special Circumstance Felony Murder?
A felony murder is a homicide that occurs while the defendant was committing or attempting to commit a felony crime. The attempt or commission of the felony is often the special circumstance under which the killing occurs.
To be charged with special circumstances felony murder, the defendant does not have to have personally committed the felony. Aiding and abetting a felony or conspiracy to commit a felony may also be considered special circumstances. Intent to participate in committing the felony is enough to get a special circumstances felony murder conviction.
Special circumstance murder is often called “capital murder” as it can result in the death penalty. A person convicted of special circumstance murder may also be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP).
Factors Considered to Determine Eligibility for Resentencing
When determining if an individual is eligible for resentencing under SB 1437, the court will consider if the defendant was a substantial actor in the homicide or if they acted with reckless indifference to human life as described on California Pen. Code §190.2(d).
In the Strong case, the jury found true that Mr. Strong was a “major participant” who acted “with reckless indifference to human life.” However, the California Supreme Court found that this decision was made before clarifying guidance had been issued in two other cases: People v. Banks (2015) 61 Cal.4th 788 and People v. Clark (2016) 63 Cal.4th 522.
Those factors considered by the court include, but are not limited to the following:
- Role of in planning the crime that led to the deaths
- Role in supplying, using, or knowledge of lethal weapons
- Awareness of dangers posed by the nature of the crime
- Experience with or conduct of other participants
- Physical presence at the crime scene
- Opportunity to restrain or stop codefendants
- Aid provided to the victims
- Efforts to minimize risks of violence during the felony
- Duration of the felony
- Knowledge of likelihood of killing
Thus, even if you were found to be a major participant who acted with reckless indifference to human life, you may now be eligible for relief under SB 1437 according to these new court rulings.
What Laws Did SB 1437 Change?
SB 1437 amended California Pen. Code §188 and §189 and created Pen. Code §1170.95. These laws define certain terms associated with murder charges and established who is eligible for resentencing under the new law.
Soon after SB 1437 was passed, the California Legislature passed SB 775, which expanded eligibility of resentencing to people who were convicted of manslaughter under the felony murder theory or natural and probable consequences doctrine as well as attempted murder under any theory in which malice is imputed solely based on participation in the crime.
How a Top SB 1437 Lawyer Can Help You
If you were convicted of special circumstances felony murder or another eligible offense, you should immediately contact Los Angeles criminal appeals attorney Aaron Spolin. As an award-winning defense attorney, he knows the law and can apply it to your case.
When you contact Spolin Law P.C., our appeals team will investigate your case and obtain your trial records. We will determine if you are eligible for SB 1437 relief and help you file a P.C.
1170.95 Petition to get your sentence reduced. This law applies retroactively, including to those that have already been sentenced.
Call our post-conviction and appeals law firm today at (310) 773-0881.