Felony-Murder For Aiders and Abettors Ended by Senate Bill 1437

Senate Bill 1437 takes effect January 1, 2019 and will limit first-degree felony-murder for any aider-abettor who is not the actual killer. Under this new law, a defendant must be the actual killer, act with intent to kill, or be a major participant in the underlying felony who acted with reckless indifference to human life to be convicted of murder.

Eligibilty for Senate Bill 1437 Resentencing

• Certain accomplices to the underlying felony who were convicted of first degree felony murder.
• Accomplices who were convicted under the natural and probable consequences doctrine as it relates to murder; and
• Those convicted of second degree felony murder.

Senate Bill 1437 does not apply if the victim was a peace officer killed in the course of her duties or if the defendant should have know the victim was a peace office performing her duties.

Senate Bill 1437 also abolishes the non-statutory second-degree felony-murder doctrine

Senate Bill 1437 abolishes the “natural and probable consequences” theory of aider-abettor liability for second degree murder. A defendant must personally act with express or implied malice to be convicted of murder.

Applying for Relief under Senate Bill 1437

Senate Bill 1437 adds Penal Code Section 1170.95 for previously convicted inmates to seek relief from prior murder convictions. About 800 inmates will be impacted by this law which allows person convicted under felony murder or under the natural and probable consequences theory to petition the court for relief and resentencing. Persons who were found guilty of murder at trial or who took a plea and who, under the changes made to Penal Code Section 188 or 189 could not be convicted of first or second degree murder, may apply for relief.

A person applying for relief under Senate Bill 1437 must file a simple petition and a declaration stating that he or she is eligible. If the court issues an order to show cause a hearing must be held within 60 days to determine whether to vacate the murder conviction and to recall the sentence and resentence the petitioner on any remaining counts. However, the new sentence, if any, may not be greater than the initial sentence. The deadline may be extended for good cause.

A resentencing hearing may be waived and the parties may stipulate that the petitioner is eligible to have his or her murder conviction vacated. If there was a prior finding by a court or jury that the petitioner did not act with reckless indifference to human life or was not a major participant in the felony, the court shall vacate the petitioner’s conviction and resentence the petitioner.

Burden of proof on the prosecution to show ineligibility

At the hearing to determine whether the petitioner is entitled to relief, the burden of proof shall be on the prosecution to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the petitioner is ineligible for resentencing. If the prosecution fails to sustain its burden of proof, the prior conviction, and any enhancements to the conviction, will be vacated and the petitioner will be resentenced on the remaining charges. The prosecutor and the petitioner may rely on the record of conviction or offer new or additional evidence to meet their respective burdens.

Murder and felony murder explained

Pen. Code, § 187, subd. (a), defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought. Except for the phrase “or a fetus,” which was added in 1970, this definition has been unchanged since the statute was first enacted as part of the Penal Code of 1872. Murder is divided into first and second degree murder (Pen. Code, § 189). Second degree murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice, but without the additional elements (i.e., willfulness, premeditation, and deliberation) that would support a conviction of first degree murder (§§ 187, subd. (a), 189).
A defendant may be found guilty of murder under the felony-murder rule. The felony-murder rule makes a killing while committing certain felonies murder without the necessity of further examining the defendant’s mental state. The rule has two applications: first degree felony murder and second degree felony murder. The California Supreme Court has said that first degree felony murder is a creation of statute (i.e., Pen. Code, § 189) but, because no statute specifically describes it, that second degree felony murder is a common law doctrine. First degree felony murder is a killing during the course of a felony specified in § 189, such as rape, burglary, or robbery. Second degree felony murder is an unlawful killing in the course of the commission of a felony that is inherently dangerous to human life but is not included among the felonies enumerated in § 189. The second degree felony-murder rule eliminates the need for the prosecution to establish the mental component of conscious-disregard-for-life malice.

People v. Chun, 45 Cal. 4th 1172, 1173-1174, 203 P.3d 425, 427, 91 Cal. Rptr. 3d 106, 108, 2009 Cal. LEXIS 3184, *1