Criminal Defense

Felony Murder: Petition for Reduced Sentence SB 1437

January 03, 2023 by Mikel Rastegar in Criminal Defense  Rights  
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What is SB 1437 Petition?

California has complicated murder laws. Several laws may render you guilty of murder even if you didn’t kill anybody. In 2019, the governor signed SB 1437 into law. SB 1437 applies to those charged with felony murder under the former statute. This implies certain felony murder defendants may petition for a reduced sentence. It clarifies that prior murder convictions may be overturned, and offenders are given new sentences if the conviction is no longer legitimate under the new guidelines. This resentencing procedure is for those convicted of murder under the felony murder rule or natural and likely consequences doctrine.

New Felony Murder Law

The new legislation demands that someone who is not the actual murderer either intend to: kill, assist, abet, advise, order, encourage, solicit, seek, or enable the real killer to commit first-degree murder or be a “substantial participant” in the underlying crime and behave with “reckless disregard to human life.” A getaway driver is unlikely to be charged with murder if they didn’t know the primary suspect was armed or meant to injure someone.

An individual is guilty of felony murder under the new law if they:

  • Killed someone while trying to commit a crime;
  • Helped kill the person;
  • Played a major role in the killing; or
  • The person killed was a peace officer doing their job.

This legislation does not alter how real murderers are prosecuted and punished. First and second-degree murder accusations will be punished similarly to SB 1437. New restrictions solely affect whether a non-killer may be charged with murder. Whether a non-killer may be prosecuted with murder currently hinges on mental state evidence.

SB 1437 Appeals

SB 1437 requires a petition and hearing to appeal a previous sentence.

Petitioning

SB 1437 requires a petitioner to file with the same prosecuting agency, court, and counsel as the preceding case. The original court receives a petition. The sitting judge designates another judge to consider the petition if the judge who convicted or sentenced the offender is no longer present. When submitting a petition, the defendant must declare that they are qualified for resentencing under Senate Bill 1437.

  • The petition should include the defendant’s case number and conviction year.
  • The defendant should seek counsel in the petition.
  • Petition service must contain all required details, or the court may not rule on the appeal.
  • If a petition is dismissed for missing data, the defendant might re-petition once the data is available.

Petition Ineligibility

As per SB 1437, if the prosecution presents sufficient evidence, you will be found guilty of first-degree murder and disqualified from filing the petition. That is:

  • You murdered the victim.
  • You didn’t kill the victim, but you intended to by assisting the murderer.
  • You were a top killer and showed reckless disdain for human life.
  • The target or victim was a peace officer killed in the line of duty.

Appeals Process

Petitioners are only afforded a hearing to argue for a sentence reduction if they can provide sufficient evidence of their eligibility. Whether or if the petitioner’s sentence is lowered will be decided during the hearing. The burden of proof for a reduced sentence reduction rests not with the petitioner but with the court. Instead, the load of proof is on the prosecution to show beyond a shadow of a doubt why the petitioner’s sentence should not be lowered.

What follows from the prosecution’s inability to provide this evidence:

  • The petitioner will be judged on the remaining counts, and all accusations and enhancements linked to the conviction will be vacated.
  • The new sentence will be decided by the judge hearing the case.
  • Time already spent will be credited toward a new sentence. The court can place the petitioner under parole monitoring for up to three years after the end of the term.

SB1437 Felony Murder Penalties

First and second-degree murder have different consequences. Two degrees of murder have distinct repercussions. First-degree murder carries a 25-year sentence. They may potentially get life in jail without parole in California. The defendant might die.

A second-degree murder refers to a criminal murder that does not fulfill the standards for first-degree felony murder. A defendant may spend 15 years in jail for second-degree murder in California.

SB 1437 and Being Able to Get a Second Sentence

SB 1437 says that a person can get their sentence cut if three things are true. These things:

  • The person was charged with felony murder based on an NPC theory;
  • The person was found guilty of first-degree or second-degree murder after a trial or accepted these charges as a plea deal;
  • The person would not have been convicted of murder under California’s new felony murder law.

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