Goodbye and Good Riddance: Is This the End of the Felony Murder Law?

In California, being an accomplice involved in a murderous crime has always warranted steep legal consequences.

Picture this: two men arrive at a gas station with intentions to rob the clerk at the register. The driver stays in the car to secure a quick getaway, while the other partner raids the station, gun in hand, to commit the robbery. But things don’t quite go as planned. The clerk is shot and killed while the partner who robbed the store jumps back into the car. The two speed off but are later caught by the authorities. What can happen next?

Under California’s “felony murder” law, both parties could be prosecuted for the same crime. The man who drove the car didn’t actually kill anybody but merely being involved deems him just as guilty as the other man who shot the clerk in the eyes of the law. Essentially, to be an accomplice is to share the guilt, and suffer the exact same consequences as the person who did the dirty work.

California isn’t the only state that takes this approach to criminal prosecution. In fact, most states in the country enforce this rule, with 24 of them making it a capital offense.

But due to the continual reworking of the state’s criminal justice system in recent years, the felony murder law may be repealed. And it’s all thanks to Senate Bill 1437. The rationale behind canning the law is that the strict penalization of criminal accomplices has been unfair, especially when many of them didn’t intend that anyone die. Not to mention that it would allow hundreds of inmates convicted under the law to petition for sentence reductions.

As in any case, there has been a backlash – mainly from law enforcement and prosecutors. They claim that without the law, dangerous criminals will be let off the hook. They also mention that the threat of being subject to the felony murder law has been valuable in persuading accomplices to turn on each other. For example, in the scenario above, the police could convince the man who drove to retrieve the murder weapon used by the other man in exchange for leniency.

Although SB 1437 has passed in the Legislature and has been signed off by Governor Brown, whether or not the felony murder law will be repealed remains a mystery. Several courts have upheld the law’s validity, but one Superior Court judge, by the name of Gregg Prickett, has declared the legislation as unconstitutional.

For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Charged With a Crime in CA? Contact an Attorney

Wilber Law Offices has represented numerous clients who’ve acquired misdemeanor and felony charges in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. Their experienced legal team has aided in getting client sentences reduced, and even in some cases getting their charges dismissed altogether. They can do the same for you. Contact them today online or by phone at (707) 986-4482.

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