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SB 1437 Relief: Previous Special Circumstance Finding Does Not Preclude Resentencing

California v. Arias Court: California Courts of Appeal, Docket: D077778 (Fourth Appellate District), Opinion Date: July 22, 2021. Sergio Rojas Arias appealed the summary denial of his petition to vacate his first-degree murder conviction under Penal Code section 1170.95. The trial court found Arias was not entitled to relief, as a matter of law, because the jury that found him guilty of murder returned a true finding on a robbery-murder special-circumstance allegation associated with the conviction. Because Arias was not the actual killer, the special-circumstance finding meant the jury necessarily found Arias aided and abetted in the commission of the murder with an intent to kill, or aided and abetted in the commission of the robbery while acting as a major participant and with reckless indifference to human life. The California Courts of Appeal were divided on the question of whether a jury’s true finding on a felony-murder special-circumstance allegation categorically precludes resentencing under section 1170.95 where, as here, the true finding was made prior to California v. Banks, 61 Cal.4th 788 (2015) and California v. Clark, 63 Cal.4th 522 (2016). The Court here found persuasive the logic of those courts that determined a pre- Banks and Clark felony-murder special-circumstance finding did not necessarily preclude resentencing under section 1170.95. Thus, the Court concluded the trial court erred in denying Arias’s petition based solely on the existence of the true robbery-murder special-circumstance finding. "Further, given the limited record of conviction before us, we are unable to conclude the special- circumstance finding satisfied the standards set forth in Banks and Clark." The trial court was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings on whether Arias made a prima facie showing of entitlement to relief.

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