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Denial of 1170.95 Relief -- REVERSED

California v. Wilkins Court: California Courts of Appeal, Docket: D078004 (Fourth Appellate District), Opinion Date: August 23, 2021. In 2018, the California Legislature enacted Senate Bill No. 1437 (2017–2018 Reg. Sess.), which amended the mens rea requirements for the crime of murder and restricted the circumstances under which a person can be liable for murder under the felony-murder rule. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review centered on whether Senate Bill No. 1437 eradicated the narrowing function traditionally performed by the felony-murder special circumstance statute, Penal Code section 190.2. The trial court found it did, thus rendering the felony-murder special circumstance statute inoperable in practice. Based on this finding, the court found Senate Bill No. 1437 unconstitutionally amended a voter-approved initiative pertaining to special circumstances. After this ruling, the court struck a petition filed by defendant Virgil Wilkins to have his first degree murder conviction vacated under section 1170.95 (the resentencing provision of Senate Bill No. 1437). The Court of Appeal concluded Senate Bill No. 1437 neither repealed the felony-murder special circumstance statute in practice nor amended any voter-approved initiative. Given this conclusion, the Court reversed the trial court order striking the defendant’s resentencing petition and remanded the matter for further proceedings pursuant to section 1170.95 (c).

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