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REVERSED: Denial of Felony Murder Relief

California v. Burgess Court: California Courts of Appeal, Docket: C094813 (Third Appellate District), Opinion Date: February 23, 2023. Defendant Dwayne Burgess appealed a trial court’s denial of his petition for resentencing after an evidentiary hearing pursuant to Penal Code section 1172.6. There was no dispute defendant was eligible for such a hearing, the question was what independent findings the trial court was required to make when determining defendant’s guilt and whether those findings were sufficient. The Court of Appeal found that although defendant claimed the trial court erroneously considered itself to be bound by the jury’s verdict at trial, the trial court did conduct an independent analysis of the record and evidence before finding defendant guilty of murder under current law. The Court agreed with defendant that this independent analysis was required, and that the principles of collateral estoppel were inapplicable to this analysis. Although the State argued the trial court was bound by the jury’s finding that defendant committed attempted robbery under principles of collateral estoppel, and even if not, the trial court’s ultimate finding that defendant was guilty of murder under current law was supported by substantial evidence, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the State on both points. Because theft by false pretenses was not a predicate felony to felony murder, the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was guilty of murder under current law. Accordingly, judgment was reversed.

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