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.

Under the new Felony Murder Rule, a person can only be convicted of murder if he killed a person in the commission of a felony, aided and abetted the killing, was a major participant in the killing, or the victim was a peace officer engaged in the performance of his duties. SB 1437 is retroactive, meaning it applies to defendants that were accused and convicted under the old law and who are now eligible for relief including appeal and resentencing.

How Do I Appeal A Sentence Under SB 1437?

Like most forms of post-conviction relief, appealing a sentence under SB 1437 requires careful processing and adhering to the rules so that the appeal is properly and timely carried out. The first step in the appeal process is filing a petition. This petition must be carefully prepared and filed in the sentencing court with service (or notice made) to the agency that prosecuted the petitioner and the attorney that represented the petitioner. 

In order for the petition to be properly completed it must include a declaration from the petitioner showing he is eligible for a sentence reduction by meeting three conditions; showing he was prosecuted for murder under a natural and probable consequences theory (NPC theory) meaning that the murder was found to be a natural and probable consequence of a felony act, he was convicted of first-degree or second-degree murder following a trial or accepted such charges as a plea offer, and that he would not have been convicted of murder under California’s new Felony Murder Rule.

Once the petition has been received and accepted, that is that the petitioner has shown he is eligible for a sentence reduction, then a hearing is set to resentence. At this hearing it is not the responsibility of the petitioner to prove that his sentence should be reduced, rather it is the responsibility of the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the petitioner’s sentence should not be reduced.

If the prosecutor cannot prove this, then the allegations and enhancements on the conviction are vacated and the petitioner is resentenced on the remaining charges. The resentencing Judge will give credit for time served and may order the petitioner receive parole supervision for up to three years following the completion of the sentence. 

What Do I Do Now?

If you or a relative or friend is currently in custody serving a sentence for felony murder you may be eligible for relief. It is critical you consult with an experienced and qualified Criminal Defense Lawyer. Our California team has years of experience researching, strategizing, and preparing petitions under SB 1437. Remember, a resentence and immediate release is possible. Contact us now for a Free Consultation.

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