Articles Posted in Felony murder

FELONY MURDER RULE RELIEF (SB 1437)

On September 30,  2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1437. SB 1437 became known as the Felony Murder Rule effectively changing the rules for how California charges felony murders.

Prior to SB 1437, California law allowed a defendant to be convicted of first-degree murder in the commission of a felony even if the defendant did not intend to kill the victim or did not know a murder took place. This means that in the commission of a residential burglary, for instance, if someone were killed as a result of the incident a getaway driver would be charged with and convicted or murder even if they had not stepped into the scene of the crime. This former broader law meant hundred of convictions of murder for individuals who never intended on seeing someone harmed in the commission of a felony act.

Senate Bill 1437 took effect in January of this year, yet many still challenge whether the new state law regarding felony murder is constitutional.

The old felony murder doctrine left countless people locked up in prison, some for decades, for murders they didn’t commit. Essentially, anyone who was an accomplice was considered equally responsible in a crime and could face charges of first degree murder, even it that person had no idea that someone else would take another person’s life.

While California’s felony murder rule was described as “barbaric” in a 1983 ruling by the state’s Supreme Court, nothing was done. Over 35 years later, we finally have a new felony murder law that will hopefully prevent those who did not commit murder or have any intent to kill someone from facing the same charges and penalties as someone who actually “did the deed.”

SB 1437 is a senate bill that has been signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, a law that goes into effect on the first day of the new year. What does this mean for convicted felons who are behind bars for a murder that occurred during a burglary, robbery, or other circumstances in which the offender did not directly assist in killing the victim or was not a key participant in the underlying felony who acted with careless negligence to the life of the deceased?

To put it simply, SB 1437 would make it unlawful for a person to be held liable for murder if that person did not act with careless disregard or indifference to human life in regards to the deceased, and did not kill or intend to kill the victim.

According to reports, in San Diego alone there are about 150 cases that could be affected by the new law; those convicted of felony murder could ultimately find themselves free and outside of prison walls should a second chance in court prove successful. In total, up to 800 cases in California might be impacted by this new change to the state’s felony murder law. While some are praising the new law, others believe it goes too far and could put the public’s safety in jeopardy.

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