A bill under consideration in California would end a rule that allows people involved in certain serious felonies—that lead to death—to be subject to the same penalties as the killer, ABA Journal reports. SB-1437: Accomplice liability for felony murder (2017-2018) would “prohibit a participant in the commission or attempted commission of a felony inherently dangerous to human life to be imputed to have acted with implied malice, unless he or she personally committed the homicidal act.”
Senate Bill 1437 was approved by the California State Senate and is now before the California State Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, which recommends the bill move forward. If SB- 1437 becomes law, it could lead to monumental changes regarding whose liable for murder. The Felony Murder Elimination Project reports that of women serving life sentences for murder in California, 72 percent were not the murderer.
Felony Murder Rule
California judges have long railed against the state’s felony murder rule, according to the article. In fact, judges in the 1960’s called the rule “highly artificial.” The California Supreme Court called felony murder a “barbaric” rule of “dubious origins” from a “bygone age” in 1983, but stated that the state legislature was the only body with the power to amend the practice, according to The Marshall Project. And in 2011, in a ruling on California’s overpopulated prisons, the U.S. Supreme Court said it violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
California isn’t the only state confronting the felony murder rule. The Pennsylvania Legislature is considering limiting the rule as well, the article reports. Other states like Ohio already addressed the law four years ago, when the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that “attempted felony murder” is “impossible” to commit. While Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Michigan have abolished the rule; 45 states still adhere to the law, and in 24 states such cases are eligible for capital punishment.
California’s SB- 1437, if approved, has provisions that go beyond ending the rule. The legislation provides those already convicted the ability to be re-sentenced or have their case vacated altogether.
“Many times in California, if you didn’t commit the murder, didn’t know the murder occurred, you could be charged and have the same sentence as the actual murderer,” said State Sen. Nancy Skinner, the legislation’s sponsor. “They had bad judgment, but they didn’t commit a murder—and when I understood this, I knew we had to fix that.”
Southern California Criminal Defense Attorney
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