Thousands of people in California have been serving unjustly long sentences because they have been convicted of murder, manslaughter, or attempted murder, even though they never killed, attempted to kill, or intended for a person to die. Until January 2019, that was the reality for countless of inmates who had been convicted of murder under the felony murder rule and the natural and probable consequences theory for simply participating in certain crimes that had resulted in the death of a person.
In 2018, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 1437, which amended the felony murder rule and allowed inmates convicted of felony murder or murder under the natural and probable consequences theory to petition the court to have their murder sentences recalled and to obtain resentencing for the underlying offense only. While advocates of criminal justice reform in California welcomed SB 1437, the law overlooked a substantial number of inmates, who had been convicted of manslaughter or attempted murder under the old theories and who were left ineligible to petition for resentencing under SB 1437.
Thankfully, the California legislature corrected this colossal oversight, and on October 5, 2021, Governor Newsom signed into law SB 775, which came into effect on January 1, 2022. By giving inmates convicted of attempted murder or manslaughter under the old doctrines the life-changing opportunity to petition the court for recall and resenting, SB 775 closed the gap that SB 1437 had left open.
Under SB 775, a defendant who had been convicted of manslaughter under the old felony murder or the natural and probable consequences theories, or of attempted murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine, is eligible for resentencing, if the defendant can demonstrate that he or she would not have been convicted of manslaughter or attempted murder under the new law because malice can no longer be imputed on a person solely because of their participation in a certain crime.
SB 775 spells out the procedure for petitioning and resentencing. Under the new law, in order to have their sentences reconsidered, inmates are responsible for filing a petition with the court that sentenced them and for serving a copy of the petition on the district attorney. Under SB 775, the defendant has to establish a prima facie case for relief in their petition. In addition to a detailed declaration by the defendant spelling out the reason for eligibility of relief under the new law, the petition has to include the case number and the year of conviction, and whether the defendant is requesting the appointment of counsel.
Following the successful filing of a petition, the burden of proof will shift to the prosecution, which has to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the inmate is guilty of manslaughter or attempted murder under the revised laws, i.e. that during the commission of a crime, the person intended to kill or was a major participant and acted with reckless indifference to human life. Notably, during the hearing, the court is allowed to hear not only evidence previously admitted, but also new or additional evidence. Finally, the new law specifically states that a conclusion that there is “substantial evidence to support a conviction…is insufficient to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the petitioner is ineligible for resentencing.” If the prosecution is unable to meet its burden of proof, then the new law requires the court to vacate any prior convictions, allegations, and enhancements, and to resentence the defendant for the original crime.
While SB 775 provides for a court appointed counsel, when filing a petition under the new law, you should consider the life-changing ramifications of a sentence recall and should work with an experienced post-conviction attorney who can present the strongest petition possible that clearly demonstrates to the court your eligibility for resentencing. At the Justice Firm, we understand the value of a solid attorney-client relationship, and are ready to work with you or your loved ones to achieve the best outcome possible.
If you believe you are eligible, or want to know whether you could potentially qualify to have your murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter charges vacated, our highly skilled and reliable attorneys are here to help and to answer any questions you might have. If you or a loved one has questions about this law, or other post-conviction matters, contact our California appeals attorneys today for a case evaluation locally at (310) 914-2444 or at our Toll-Free number at (866) 695-6714, or click here.