What Does California’s SB 1437 Mean for Those Convicted of Felony Murder?

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.

SB 1437 makes it possible for those in prison for felony murder to apply for re-sentencing, but it also limits the ability of prosecutors to charge those who were an accomplice in a crime resulting in homicide using the “felony murder rule.” The current law holds that a person can be held criminally liable for murder when a homicide takes place during a robbery, burglary or other felony offense, even if that person was not present when the death actually occurred. SB 1437 will change this law. Essentially, the DA’s office will have the burden of showing the accused had the intent to kill, which is a very difficult task.

What do you think about this change to California’s felony murder law? Perhaps an excerpt from the title of one news report sums it up best: “Law Bars Prosecutors from Pursuing Murder Charges Against People Who Didn’t Commit Murder.”

The current felony murder law is thought by many to be archaic, and it separates intent from action which is not really fair to the defendant. If a person did not actually commit murder or have the intent to, should they be susceptible to felony murder charges?

If you’re an inmate or the family of someone who has been convicted of felony murders although he or she had nothing to do with the homicide, consult with a skilled and qualified Los Angeles criminal defense attorney immediately.