How To Apply for Resentencing Under California's Modified Felony Murder Rule

California Senate Bill 1437 became effective January 1, 2019, and made significant changes to felony murder and murder under a natural and probable consequences doctrine. Before SB 1437, a defendant could still be charged with murder even in a situation where they were not the actual killer, had no intent to kill, or was not a primary participant in the underlying crime.

Senate Bill 1437 was passed to prevent a defendant from being charged with murder when these factors were met. California Penal Code 1170.95 PC is language within SB 1437 that allows defendants convicted of murder before vacating their conviction and having it removed. 

In a situation where a defendant was charged with felony murder or murder under a natural and probable consequences doctrine, then under PC 1170.95, they might get the court to vacate the conviction if they meet just one of the bill's criteria:

  • defendant was not the actual killer,
  • defendant didn't have an intent to kill, or
  • defendant wasn't a primary participant in underlying crime that acted with reckless indifference to human life.

Before Senate Bill 1437, defendants could be convicted under the theory of natural and probable consequences, which meant two people committed a felony. Still, one murdered the felony; the other could also be charged with murder. Now, Penal Code 1170.95 PC says you can't be convicted of murder merely because you participated in a felony crime where another person was killed.

How Can I Request PC 1170.95 Resentencing?

To request resentencing under Penal Code 1170.95 PC, you have to submit a petition with the court stating why you should get a new sentence under Senate Bill 1437.

Resentencing on Felony Murder in California

If the court determines you would not have been convicted under the new law, they will vacate your murder conviction. Then, you will be resentenced on the rest of the charges on the case. However, to submit a petition for resentencing, you must meet the following factors:

  • you were charged with murder under the doctrine of natural and probable consequences,
  • you were convicted of murder or entered a guilty plea to first or second-degree murder, and
  • you couldn't be convicted of murder due to changes in the felony murder statute.

If you seek to file a motion for resentencing, you will need an experienced California murder defense attorney to have the best chance at success.

New Rules for Murder Charges in California

The legislature has come up with SB 1437, which helps individuals who have been convicted of murder. Not only does it help people who have been convicted and can be resentenced if they meet specific qualifications. It is also helpful to individuals charged with murder under the felony/murder doctrine. What it says is that:

  • we're no longer just going to throw a net around anybody who was involved in a situation where a murder occurred;
  • first, we're going to look at what the circumstances were, how many people were involved — and we're going to look specifically at a particular defendant to see what they did;
  • if the person is the shooter and killed somebody, that individual is not going to be helped with SB 1437;
  • if, on the other hand, the person is the getaway driver and had no intent to kill anybody, that person will be helped with Penal Code Section 1437;
  • that person will not be prosecuted for murder in a new case. For example, if they were involved in a robbery, they'll still be charged.

To me, the big question becomes, what about the person who wasn't the shooter but wasn't the getaway driver but was still involved in the robbery? What if a look-out went into the store with the actual shooter and was involved in our example?

That person will have to be pegged as a significant participant and show reckless indifference to human life.  Those two things right there is a very murky proposition.  That's where the battle will lie in a lot of these cases.

Requirements for Resentencing under SB 1437

First, a case where somebody will be resentenced under 1437.  You're going to have to file a Petition and meet specific requirements. But the most powerful arguments are going to come about circumstances where somebody wasn't the shooter but also wasn't the getaway driver.  What was their role?  What did they do?

We're going to have to look at the facts and the details.  Suppose your Petition is granted for a hearing. In that case, you're able to present new evidence that you might have that puts somebody in a position to defend themselves and show they were not a significant participant.

They should not have been convicted of murder, where the person has already been convicted; therefore, the murder conviction should be overturned. Then, what would happen is, if somebody were successful, not only would their murder conviction be overturned, they're going to be subject to resentencing.

Example of Resentencing on Murder Charges

So, in our example where somebody is committing a Penal Code 211 robbery, and a murder occurs, if their murder conviction is overturned, now they're going to be sent back to court to be sentenced on the robbery, and that's huge for a lot of people.

Some people have served 10, 15, 20 years in prison.  Once they get resentenced on that robbery, they're going to get out.  Theft has a high term of six years. If there are guns involved and other allegations, those could be relevant.  But most of the time, if they've served a significant sentence, they're going to be resentenced.  They're going to get credit for the time they've already done, and they're going to get out.

Contact a Criminal Lawyer at the Hedding Law Firm

So, if you or a loved one is looking to be resentenced, you've come to the right place.  We can file a Petition with the court on your behalf and try to convince the judge to get a hearing.

Criminal Defense Lawyer in California

If we get the hearing, that's kind of like a mini-trial; we're then able to present evidence to show that you should not have been convicted of murder. Maybe you should have been convicted of the robbery, and that's the usual circumstance that we see. Still, there are all kinds of different twists in various cases, depending on the circumstances of your particular case.

Suppose, on the other hand, you or a loved one is currently charged with murder, and they're using that felony murder theory to try to get you to say, even though you might not have been the shooter. In that case, you're still responsible because the death occurred during a felony.

Of course, that's when you're going to want to have a criminal defense attorney like me who's been doing this now for almost three decades.  The law has changed for the better related to these types of cases. Pick up the phone. 

Make the call.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.  I stand at the ready to help you. Hedding Law Firm is a Los Angeles criminal defense law firm serving people across Southern California. We offer a free case evaluation by phone or filling out our contact form.