Until 2019, countless of inmates in California had been serving unjustly long sentences for murder convictions, even though they never killed, attempted to kill, or intended for a person to die. Fortunately, as part of the ongoing criminal justice reform in California, in 2017, the state legislature acknowledged the need for more equitable sentencing of offenders and determined that reform in the laws is necessary to reflect one of the basic principles of the law and of equity, that a person should be punished for his o her actions based on their own level of individual culpability.
As a result of their findings, the California Legislature concluded that the felony murder rule and the natural and probable consequences doctrine, as it relates to murder, have to be amended, and on September 30, 2018, the former California Governor Jerry Brown, signed into law SB 1437, which was codified as Penal Code §1170.95. In short, SB 1437 changes Penal Code §§188 and 189 by limiting the number of people that can be convicted of felony murder, and by effectively eliminating the role of the natural and probable consequences doctrine in murder cases.
Prior to SB 1437, a person could have been convicted of felony murder if he or she participated in or aided in the commission of a felony and a victim died during or as a result of the felony. Under the new law, in order for someone to be convicted of felony murder, he or she has to participate or attempt to participate in a felony in which a death occurs and: