SB 1437 is California’s new felony murder rule. Signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September 2018, it effectively limits who can be prosecuted for felony murder. Under the previous law, any person could be convicted of felony murder if a person died during the commission of a felony. Now, the law holds that only defendants who either committed or intended to commit a killing can be prosecuted under the felony murder rule.
Specifically, SB 1437 only allows for prosecution for felony murder if he or she:
- Killed a person either while committing a felony or in attempting to commit a felony;
- Aided and abetted in the killing;
- Was a major participant in the killing; or
- The victim was a peace officer engaged in the performance of his or her duties.
SB 1437 is unique because — unlike many other laws — it is retroactive. This means that it applies to defendants who were convicted of felony murder under the old rule. As a result, as many as 800 Californians may be eligible for release from prison.
Individuals convicted of felony murder under the prior rule can petition to have their sentences reduced. Under SB 1437, a person is eligible for a reduced sentence if:
- They were convicted under the old rule (natural and probable consequences theory);
- They were convicted of first- or second-degree murder; and
- They would not have been convicted of murder under SB 1437.