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No Contest Plea Not A Bar To SB 1437 Relief

People v. Rivera Court: California Courts of Appeal, Docket: A158284 (First Appellate District), Opinion Date: March 19, 2021. Rivera pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and admitted a prior strike in exchange for the dismissal of special-circumstances allegations. In 2017, he was sentenced to 35 years to life in prison. Penal Code sections 188 and 189 subsequently limited liability for murder under the doctrines of felony murder and natural and probable consequences, and established a procedure, Penal Code 1170.95, for eligible defendants to petition to have their murder convictions vacated and be resentenced. The trial court denied Rivera’s petition for section 1170.95 relief, finding that Rivera failed to make a prima facie showing of eligibility because he “entered a plea to second-degree murder with malice” and nothing in the record of conviction supported the conclusion that the murder was “anything other than an intentional killing in which [he] harbored such malice.” The court of appeal reversed. A defendant who entered a plea to murder “with malice aforethought” is not categorically incapable of making a prima facie showing under section 1170.95(c). Such a plea is not necessarily an admission that the crime was committed with actual malice. A defendant who stipulated to a grand jury transcript as the factual basis of the plea may make a prima facie showing of eligibility for relief by identifying a scenario under which he was guilty of murder only under a now-invalid theory, even if the record of conviction does not demonstrate that the indictment rested on that scenario.

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