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Special Circumstance Finding by Jury Does Not Bar 1170.95 Relief

People v. Secrease Court: California Courts of Appeal, Docket: A158342 (First Appellate District), Opinion Date: April 20, 2021. The prosecution pursued alternative theories of first-degree murder liability at Secrease’s 1998 trial, arguing that Secrease could be convicted as a direct perpetrator based on his statements, or, alternatively, as an aider and abettor based on his participation in the carjacking plan and his knowledge that a co-conspirator was armed and willing to use violence. The jury found Secrease guilty of both first-degree murder and carjacking, without specifying the basis for the murder conviction. It found the felony-murder special-circumstance allegation true but found not true two firearm use allegations. The court of appeal affirmed the convictions but remanded; the trial court failed to consider a discretionary reduction of the sentence to 25 years to life based on Secrease’s youth. On remand, Secrease was again sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The court of appeal affirmed. In 2018, Senate Bill 1437 changed the law relating to accomplice liability for murder. Secrease’s subsequent resentencing petition, Penal Code section 1170.95, was summarily rejected. The court of appeal remanded. A felony-murder special-circumstance finding by the jury that convicted Secrease in 1998 did not bar him from pleading a prima facie case for section 1170.95 resentencing relief as a matter of law. No court has ever determined whether the felony-murder special-circumstance finding rendered against Secrease meets the minimum standards of personal culpability enunciated in precedent. He is entitled to that determination before his section 1170.95 petition may be denied summarily.

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