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Appellate Court Upholds Dismissal of Special Circumstances

California v. Hampton, Docket: C093270 (Third Appellate District), Opinion Date: February 10, 2022. Defendant Danny Hampton was convicted by jury of first degree murder and on two counts of robbery. He was sentenced to an aggregate terms of 33 years to life. The jury could not reach a verdict on the robbery-murder special-circumstance allegation, and that allegation was dismissed on the State's motion for insufficient evidence. Defendant filed a petition for resentencing under Penal Code section 1170.95, and requested appointment of counsel. In ruling on the section 1170.95 petition, the court considered the murder-robbery jury instructions given and the State's motion to dismiss the special-circumstance allegation for insufficient evidence. The court concluded “that the dismissal of that special circumstance for insufficient evidence is equivalent to a finding that the defendant did not act with reckless indifference. Consequently the People have failed to carry their burden of proving ineligibility.” The court then proceeded to resentencing, vacated the murder conviction, and lifted the stays on the robbery convictions, leaving a sentence of seven years. The State appealed, contending the dismissal of the special-circumstance allegation was not an acquittal. After review, the Court of Appeal affirmed the order granting the petition for resentencing. There was no dispute defendant was not the actual killer and did not act with intent to kill, to now be convicted of murder the prosecution was required to prove defendant “was a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life, as described in subdivision (d) of Section 190.2.” If there was a prior finding by a court or jury that defendant did not act with reckless indifference to human life or was not a major participant in the felony the court was required to vacate the conviction and resentence defendant. Because the original trial court dismissed the case for insufficient evidence, this dismissal acted as the equivalent of an acquittal, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court properly granted the petition for resentencing under section 1170.95. #1170.95relief #felonymurder #sb1437

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