Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed SB-775 into law, refining changes to felony murder conviction rules enacted by SB-1437, signed by former Governor Jerry Brown in 2018. While SB-1437 refined the rules for California prosecutors seeking felony murder convictions, SB-775 closes an unintended issue with SB-1437 that effectively prevented the changes from being implemented in cases that involved a conviction for offenses less severe than felony murder. If you or a loved one recently accepted a plea deal to avoid felony murder conviction or face such charges following the approval of SB-775, it is crucial to know what this law changes and how it may benefit your position.
What Does SB-1437 Do?
Prior to the approval of SB-1437, it was possible for California prosecutors to charge an individual with felony murder simply for participating in any criminal action that resulted in the death of another person, even if the individual did not actively participate in causing the death. For example, if two people agreed to perform an armed robbery and one of the participants shot and killed their victim, both participants would face felony murder charges under the previous rule.
SB-1437 essentially requires the prosecution to prove that a defendant acted with intent to kill to qualify for a felony murder conviction. The law intended to make sentencing fairer for those charged as accessories to fatal crimes but inadvertently created a loophole that precluded individuals convicted of similar but lesser offenses from taking advantage of the newly provided resentencing options. While this law sought to create more reasonable prosecutorial standards for California residents, it included strict wording that effectively made it only applicable to those charged directly with felony murder or those who attempted to fight their charges in court and lost, resulting in a felony murder conviction.
What Does SB-775 Do?
Many individuals facing felony murder charges would accept plea deals for lesser offenses such as voluntary manslaughter. Under the strict application of SB-1437’s changes, it would be possible for an individual who went to trial and lost to receive a felony murder charge and qualify for resentencing, but if an individual had accepted a plea deal for attempted murder or voluntary manslaughter, they would not be eligible for the same treatment.
SB-775 does not exactly create a new law. Instead, it clarifies the new standards provided under SB-1437 to provide a more logical application of the newly provided resentencing and vacated sentence rules for felony murder charges.
Potential Benefits of Securing Resentencing or a Vacated Sentence
The sentence for a felony murder conviction in California typically entails a minimum of 25 years in prison with the possibility of the prosecution seeking life in prison without parole in some cases. Before the approval of SB-1437, it was possible for an individual to face these penalties simply for participating in any crime that resulted in a death, even if they were not the one to cause the death in question. Under SB-1437 only certain individuals qualified for resentencing or vacated sentences while many people convicted of lesser charges under similar conditions did not qualify for these benefits. SB-775 closes this loophole, offers expanded resentencing options to more people convicted of various forms of homicide and ultimately offers the state of California tremendous savings on the cost of long-term incarceration.
If you or a loved one was convicted of felony murder, attempted murder, or voluntary manslaughter prior to the passing of SB-1437 and/or SB-775, you could potentially qualify for resentencing or even a vacated sentence following the approval of SB-775. This new law also ensures swifter access to public defender representation for many defendants in need of legal counsel, but it is always worth working with an experienced private defense attorney when you face a complex criminal court appeal.
How Does Resentencing Work in California?
The resentencing process is a form of appeal that exists to provide convicted defendants with a means of arguing for reduced penalties. The defendant must file a motion for resentencing following their conviction and original sentencing proceedings. The sentencing court must review the petition and determine whether the court made any clerical errors, whether the original sentence imposed on the petitioner was illegal, or whether the court committed a judicial error.
SB-775 retroactively applies, so with the approval of this new law several thousand convicted individuals in California can qualify for resentencing under the revised definitions of felony murder and the new standards for sentencing. It’s also possible for some individuals to have their sentences completely vacated. Since SB-775 retroactively applies and became California law on October 5, 2021, anyone who qualifies for resentencing or vacated sentences under this law may now initiate proceedings to have their cases amended appropriately.
How Your Lawyer Can Help
SB-775 also ensures broader and swifter access to public defense resources for those who need them, aiming to streamline resentencing proceedings for many California inmates facing long incarceration terms for their prior convictions. An experienced criminal defense attorney can provide comprehensive legal counsel through these complex proceedings and assist clients in applying the newly approved SB-775 to their individual cases.
It can be incredibly daunting to confront the California criminal court system, but the right attorney will help you approach this situation with clarity and confidence. Appealing your sentence under the newly approved provisions granted by SB-1437 and SB-775 could potentially mean a much lighter prison sentence or even early release. Depending on the nature of your original conviction and whether you accepted a plea deal, you could potentially shave many years off of your prison term or even have your sentence vacated completely.
The attorneys at the Law Office of Stein & Markus have decades of experience as prosecutors and now apply this experience in the field of criminal defense. Our team knows how stressful it can be to navigate the appeal process in the California criminal court and want to help you understand your rights and legal options in this challenging situation. If you are ready to discuss your legal options provided by SB-1437 and SB-775 with an experienced team of Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys, contact the Law Office of Stein & Markus today to schedule a consultation with our team.
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