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What is California’s New Felony Murder Law?

Under California’s old felony murder law, someone could get convicted of felony murder if a victim died during the commission of a felony even if the defendant did not intend to kill a person, did not know it took place, or if it was an accident. Under the NEW felony murder law (Senate Bill 1437), the felony murder rule only applies when a defendant directly kills a person in the commission of a felony, or in an attempted felony; aids and abets the killing; is a major participant in the killing; or when the victim was a peace officer engaged in the performance of his/her duties. Prosecutors can no longer hold accomplices, who had no intent to kill anyone during the commission of certain specified crimes, accountable for a murder committed by a codefendant.

The New Law and Resentencing

A person may be eligible for resentencing if the defendant was convicted of felony murder under a natural and probable consequences theory, the defendant was convicted of first or second-degree murder, and if the defendant would not have been convicted of murder under California’s new felony murder law. A petition must be filed in the court that sentenced the person. The court must vacate the conviction and re-sentence those imprisoned for felony murder or for “murder under a natural and probable consequences theory” who also qualify for relief under the new law.

An Example of the Law in Practice

It is important to note that an accomplice to a felony in which a death occurred IS DIFFERENT than an accomplice to a planned murder. For example, two men, Andrew and Ethan, plan to rob an acquaintance, Joshua, who is known to carry a large amount of cash on him at all times. On the day of the robbery, Andrew and Ethan wait for the Joshua outside of a gas station while Joshua purchases something inside. When Joshua comes out, Andrew grabs Joshua by both arms while Ethan grabs Joshua’s wallet. Ethan runs with the wallet in hand while Andrew stays with Joshua and decides to shoot him. Based on the new felony law, Andrew would get charged with murder, but Ethan would be eligible for resentencing because he believed that they would only be robbing Joshua. An accomplice to planned murder is not eligible for resentencing, but an accomplice to a felony in which a death occurred is eligible for resentencing.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you or a loved one is facing murder charges or has already been charged with murder under the old California murder law, then it is pertinent that you contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options. A skilled attorney may be able to help you reduce your sentence and possibly eliminate the murder charge as well. Please contact The Nieves Law Firm for a free consultation today at (510)-588-8580!

Author Bio

Jo-Anna Nieves is the Founder and Managing Attorney of The Nieves Law Firm, an Oakland criminal defense law firm she created in 2012. With more than 11 years of experience in criminal defense, she has zealously represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including DUIs, domestic violence, expungement, federal crimes, juvenile law, motions to vacate, sex crimes, violent crimes, and other criminal charges.

Jo-Anna received her Juris Doctor from the Florida State University College of Law and is a member of the State Bar of California. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including being named a Super Lawyer Rising Star the past 8 years, the #12 Fastest Growing Law Firm in the U.S. by Law Firm 500 in 2019, and one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. by Inc 5000 in 2023.

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