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What Is SB 1437?

December 6, 2019

Under California’s new felony murder rule, only certain people can be convicted of this offense.

What Is SB 1437?

SB 1437 is California’s new felony murder rule. Governor Jerry Brown signed this bill into law in September 2018. SB 1437 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.

The felony murder rule was often applied harshly to hold people for a death that happened during the course of a crime — even if they did not mean for that death to occur. For example, felony murder could be charged in a situation where two men robbed a jewelry store and carried no weapons — but the store owner happened upon the robbery. The ownerwas startled by the robbers, and had a heart attack. Because he died during the commission of a felony, a prosecutor could charge the two men with felony murder, even though they had no weapons and did not play a direct role in the death of the owner.

As a criminal defense lawyer Riverside, CA can explain, all of that has changed with the passage of SB 1437. The new law only allows individuals to be prosecuted for felony murder if they:

  • 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.

In the example above, unless the two robbers actually killed the owner, such as by bringing a gun to the store and shooting him, they could not be charged with felony murder. Importantly, if one of the men brought a gun and shot the owner, and the other man was not aware that he was planning to do this, the second man could not be charged with felony murder. Under the old law, he could have been charged with felony murder.

One of the most significant aspects of SB 1437 is that 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 with the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer Riverside, CA.

People convicted of felony murder under the prior rule can petition to have their sentences reduced. Depending on the amount of time that they have served, they may be eligible for release. 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.

After a petition is filed, a resentencing hearing is scheduled to determine eligibility for a reduced sentence and/or release.

The new felony murder rule represents a major change in California law — and a sign of hope for criminal justice reform. If you have been charged with felony murder or any other crime, the Chambers Law Firm can help. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation.

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