Is California’s New Felony Murder Law Constitutional?

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.”

The new felony murder law was meant to be retroactive, making it possible for those who had been found guilty under the old rule to apply for re-sentencing. In 2017 Senate Concurrent Resolution 48 was passed, recognizing the need for reform to the felony murder rule – specifically that offenders should be sentenced according to their involvement in a crime.

Although the new felony murder law went into effect January 1, many prosecutors continue to challenge it’s constitutionality; even some judges have struck down SB 1437 as unconstitutional. While some argue that the new felony murder law amends Proposition 7 and Proposition 115, the AGs Office argues otherwise and accepts SB 1437 as constitutional.

Courts across California have upheld SB 1437 as constitutional, and while some prosecutors continue to try to overturn the new law and resort to scare tactics, many are properly applying the law, making it possible for some who have served time behind bars for murders they did not commit to finally go home.

California’s new felony murder law is constitutional; hopefully this reform will be upheld by state courts.

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