A controversial new law that went into effect this year changes the felony murder rules in California. Senate Bill 1437 prohibits “a participant in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of one of the specified first-degree murder felonies in which a death occurs from being liable for murder.” Some of our readers may remember a previous post on the subject; if not please click here.
As we pointed out in January, SB-1437 should lead to the release of a significant number of inmates. Such prisoners, who are serving time for murder even though they did not commit the killing.
Before January 1, 2019, an individual could receive a lengthy prison sentence for being involved in a crime that results in a murder. Crimes are often committed in tandem; when a homicide occurs, only one of the perpetrators fires the gun or wields the knife usually. However, the accomplice can find themselves in equally hot water.
SB-1437 provides an avenue of recourse for many people serving time. The law allows some inmates to have their convictions vacated and be re-sentenced. It has come to light, however, that implementing the new felony murder rules is challenging.
Raising the Standards Prosecutors Must Meet
When a controversial new law goes into effect, there is always at least two sides—those for or against the legislation. Advocates for SB-1437 contend that it will prevent low-level accomplices to crimes that result in death from receiving extremely harsh punishments.
Opponents argue that the bill makes it more challenging to secure murder convictions and will result in dangerous people being released. The Mercury News notes that state prosecutors are the most critical opponents of SB-1437.
The fierce debate over instituting the new bill means that inmates who thought they might receive a judicial win will have to wait longer. San Mateo County Assistant District Attorney Sean Gallagher states that the new law conflicts with two voter-approved propositions, according to the article. It is likely that what happens next will involve the California Supreme Court to resolve the issues.
“California is still moving in the direction of leniency,” said law professor Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, “but it can still be four steps forward and three steps back, or complete gridlock for a while.”
Thus far, hundreds of inmates serving lengthy sentences for their involvement in crimes that led to murder have petitioned the courts for re-sentencing under California’s new law. We will continue to follow the updates on this critical piece of legislation.
Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer
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