On September 30, 2018, with bi-partisan support, Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed SB1437 into law and, with it, abruptly ended a legal doctrine that put accomplices to murder in jail for murders they never committed.
Under the new SB1437 law, a person can only be convicted of the crime of murder if the state can prove the following:
- The person was the actual killer
- The person “aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, solicited, requested, or assisted the actual killer”
- The person was a “major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life”
- The victim was a police officer on active duty
One of the most important components is that this new law is retroactive, which means that anyone previously convicted of felony murder in California may have the opportunity to petition to have their sentence reduced.
The Legal Debate Continues
While the law has been established, the debate continues regarding its constitutionality. Eighteen inmates have already petitioned the California courts requesting to be re-sentenced under the new doctrine. Many district attorneys in California have since challenged these petitions made by inmates as unconstitutional, arguing that this new doctrine directly opposes the will of the voters made in 1978 (Proposition 7) and the 1990s (Proposition 15).
Since 1983, when the California Supreme Court labeled the state’s felony murder rule “barbaric,” the law continued to be controversial, with opponents arguing that people were unfairly sentenced to inappropriately long prison terms for crimes they did not commit.
While two local judges have since agreed with the SB1437 doctrine and upheld the law in several cases, a San Luis Obispo judge recently ruled that the law is unconstitutional. With an apparent conflict between the vote of the people and the law enacted, only time will tell whether the enactment of this doctrine rose to the level of “legislative encroachment.”
Time is of the Essence
Under the current law, some people who were convicted under the previous felony murder charge are now legally eligible to apply for a reduced sentence under the SB1437 doctrine. However, given the current debate regarding the law, it is imperative that you discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles as soon as possible. At the Law Office of Stein & Markus in Bellflower, we can help you determine if you are eligible to petition under this new law.
Protect Your Rights
Contact the Law Office of Stein & Markus to discuss your rights under SB1437. Our experienced and knowledgeable defense attorneys can help determine if you or a loved one are eligible for a sentence reduction, file your SB1437 petition if you are eligible, and if necessary, represent you at a hearing. With decades of experience both as prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys, we will help you understand your rights, and help you determine if the law was applied appropriately in your case. Contact us today to discuss your rights at (562) 512-7030, or online.
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