SB 300 – (Cortese) Status: 06/02/2021 Ordered to inactive file on request of Senator Cortese. Background: In 2018 California significantly reformed the felony-murder doctrine in California. Historically, the felony murder rule applied to murder in the first degree as well as murder in the second degree. The rule created liability for murder for actors (and their accomplices) who kill another person during the commission of a felony. The death needed not to be in furtherance of the felony, in fact the death could be accidental. The stated purpose for the rule has always been to deter those who commit felonies from killing by holding them strictly responsible for any killing committed by a co-felon, whether intentional, negligent, or accidental during the perpetration or attempted perpetration of the felony. (People v. Cavitt (2004) 33 Cal. 4th 187, 197.) First-degree felony murder rule applied when a death occurs during the commission of one of a list of enumerated felonies. Second degree murder occurs when a death occurs during the commission of a felony that has not been enumerated in code as constituting first-degree felony murder, but that courts have defined as “inherently dangerous.” (People v. Ford (1964) 60 Cal.2d 772.) The standard courts are supposed to use for inherently dangerous is that the felony cannot be committed without creating a substantial risk that someone could be killed. (People v. Burroughs (1984) 35 Cal. 3d 824, 833.) So therefore, a defendant who fired a weapon in the air to deter criminals from burglarizing their property could be convicted of second-degree felony murder if the firing of the weapon killed a human being. That defendant could have been convicted of 15-years to life in state prison. SB 1437 (Skinner, Chapter 1015, Statutes of 2018) reformed the felony murder rule in California by clarifying that malice cannot be imputed to a person based solely on his or her participation in a specified crime. This eliminated second degree felony murder as a basis for murder liability. The participant in those specified felonies can only be liable for murder if one of the following factors is proved: 1) The person was the actual killer; 2) The person was not the actual killer, but had the intent to kill and they aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, solicited, requested, or assisted the actual killer in the commission of the murder; or 3) The person was a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life. Additionally, SB 1437 provided a procedure for incarcerated persons to petition to have their sentences recalled and to be resentenced pursuant to the provisions and standards of the bill. SB 1437 did not amend the special circumstances provisions of the California Penal Code. Those provisions were implemented by Proposition 115 in 1990 and require a 2/3 vote by both houses of the state legislature to amend. The implementation of SB 1437 left a peculiar scenario where persons who were not sentenced to LWOP or death were able to petition courts for relief by showing they never intended to kill and they met the qualifications for resentencing, butthose who were sentenced to death and LWOP could not petition for relied. This bill corrects that discrepancy by allowing persons sentenced to death or LWOP to petition for relief and resentencing.
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