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1170.95 Petitioners Have Right to Counsel

People v. Lewis Docket: S260598, Opinion Date: July 26, 2021. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's summary denial of Defendant's Cal. Penal Code 1170.95 petition, holding that the statutory language and legislative intent of section 1170.95 make clear that petitioners are entitled to the appointment of counsel upon the filing of a facially sufficient petition. Senate Bill No. 1437 eliminated natural and probable consequences liability for murder and limited the scope of the felony murder rule. The bill also added section 1170.95 to the Penal Code, which creates a procedure for convicted murderers who could not be convicted under the law as amended to retroactively seek relief. Defendant filed a section 1170.95 petition. The trial court considered Defendant's record of conviction without appointing counsel and summarily denied the petition. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a petitioner is statutorily entitled to counsel, if requested, upon the filing of a facially sufficient petition, and section 1170.95, subdivision (c) describes only one prima facie showing; (2) a trial court can rely on the record of conviction in determining whether that single prima facie showing is made; and (3) the trial court's failure to appoint counsel to represent Defendant was state law error only, and the court of appeal shall determine on remand whether the error was prejudicial.

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