DIGEST: This bill (1) clarifies that persons who were convicted of attempted murder or manslaughter under a theory of felony murder, a theory under which malice is imputed to a person, and the natural probable consequences doctrine are permitted the same relief as those persons convicted of murder under the same theories; (2) permits for the appointment of counsel in petitions for resentencing under these provisions as specified; and (3) authorizes a person convicted of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter whose conviction is not final to challenge the validity of that conviction upon direct appeal.
Assembly Amendments: 1) Add legislative findings and declarations related to felony murder and the national, the probable consequences doctrine, and the right to counsel. 2) Clarify that at a hearing to determine whether a petitioner is entitled to relief, the prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the petitioner is guilty of murder or attempted murder. 3) Set forth rules related to the admission of evidence at hearings to determine whether a petitioner is entitled to relief.
Existing law: 1) Defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought. (Pen. Code, § 187, subd. (a).)
2) Defines malice for this purpose as either express or implied and defines those terms. (Pen. Code, § 188.) a) It is express when there is manifested a deliberate intention unlawfully to take away the life of a fellow creature. b) It is implied, when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart. c) Provides that when it is shown that the killing resulted from an act with express or implied malice, no other mental state need be shown to establish the mental state of malice aforethought. Neither an awareness of the obligation to act within the general body of laws regulating society nor acting despite such awareness is included within the definition of malice. (Pen. Code, § 188.)
3) Defines first degree murder, in part, as all murder that is committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, specified felonies. (Pen. Code, § 189.)
4) Prescribes, as enacted by Proposition 7 (approved by the voters at the November 7, 1978 statewide general election), a penalty for that crime of death, imprisonment in the state prison for life without the possibility of parole, or imprisonment in the state prison for a term of 25 years to life. (Pen. Code, § 190.)
5) Clarifies that for conviction of murder generally, a participant in a crime must have the mental state described as malice, unless specified criteria are met. (Pen. Code, § 189.) a) States that malice shall not be imputed to a person based solely on his or her participation in a crime. b) States that a participant in certain specified felonies is liable for first degree murder only if one of the following is proven: (i) the person was the actual killer; (ii) the person was not the actual killer, but, with the intent to kill, aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, solicited, requested, or assisted the actual killer in the commission of murder in the first degree; and, (iii) the person was a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life, as specified. c) Allows a defendant to be convicted of first degree murder if the victim is a peace officer who was killed in the course of duty, where the defendant was a participant in certain specified felonies and the defendant knew, or reasonably should have known, that the victim was a peace officer engaged in the performance of duty, regardless of the defendant's state of mind.
6) Provides, as enacted by Proposition 115 (approved by the voters on the June 5, 1990 statewide general election), that when a prosecutor charges a special circumstance enhancement and it is found true, a person found guilty of first degree murder who are not the actual killer, acted with reckless indifference to human life, was a major participant in certain specified felonies, aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, solicited, requested, or assisted in the commission of that felony shall be punished by death or life without the possibility of parole. (Pen. Code, § 190.2.)
7) Provides a means of vacating the conviction and resentencing a defendant when a complaint, information, or indictment was filed against the defendant that allowed the prosecution to proceed under a theory of first degree felony murder or murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine, the defendant was sentenced for first degree or 2nd degree murder or accepted a plea offer in lieu of a trial at which the defendant could be convicted for first degree or 2nd degree murder. (Pen. Code, § 1170.95.)
This bill: 1) Clarifies that a person who was convicted of attempted murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine or any other theory under which malice is imputed to the person based solely on their participation in a crime or who was convicted of manslaughter when the prosecution was allowed to proceed on a theory of felony murder or murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine, to apply to have their sentence vacated and be resentenced. 2) Requires a court to find a prima facie showing has been made that a petitioner falls within resentencing provisions unless the declaration fails to show that they meet the requirements for resentencing. 3) Specifies that upon receiving a petition in which the information required is set forth or a petition where any missing information can be readily ascertained by the court, if the petitioner has requested counsel the court shall appoint counsel to represent the petitioner. 4) Specifies that a finding that there is substantial evidence to support a conviction of murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the petitioner is ineligible for resentencing. 5) Provides that a person convicted of murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter whose conviction is not final may challenge on direct appeal the validity of that conviction.
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. These felonies are as follows: arson, robbery, any burglary, carjacking, train wrecking, kidnapping, mayhem, rape, torture, and a list of sexual crimes (including rape, sodomy, oral copulation, forcible penetration, or lewd acts with a minor). (Pen. Code, § 189.) 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 (Skinner) has left California in a peculiar situation. While it may seem obvious that persons who have pled or been convicted of manslaughter or attempted murder at trial under a felony murder or natural and probable consequences theory should be entitled to the same relief as persons convicted of more serious offenses of first and second degree murder some courts have ruled that they are not. This bill seeks to clarify that obvious inequity in the law. If this bill passes, people who are serving a sentence of manslaughter or attempted murder that were prosecuted under a felony murder theory or a natural and probable consequences theory will be able to have their sentences recalled under the same standards as people who have been convicted of first and second-degree murder.
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