California’s Senate Bill 1437 that went into effect on January 1, 2019 limits a prosecutor’s ability to charge and convict individuals with a felony murder that they didn’t personally commit. The bill includes restrictions on accusations of acting as an accomplice to a homicide that occurred during a robbery or burglary. A conviction of a first- or second-degree murder charge may now require that a prosecutor prove an individual significantly participated in the underlying felony or acted as the actual killer.
Sixteen years have passed by, and an inmate sentenced to life imprisonment over a first-degree murder conviction is set free, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. While riding as a passenger in a car, its driver snatched a woman’s purse and drove away. A 35-year-old man who was loading his work truck was fatally hit by the car during this 2003 robbery. Because law enforcement found the defendant bloodied on the side of the robber’s vehicle, and witnesses to the robbery suggested he was a passenger, it resulted in a charge and conviction of first-degree murder.
With the passage of SB1437, the defendant was able to request a new hearing for resentencing. The judge presiding over his case determined that he should be released because the evidence was insufficient to prove he was the car’s driver. Reportedly, he is the first inmate released under the new bill.
Proponents of the bill claim it ends California’s “barbaric” rules that allowed for individuals to be sentenced for crimes they didn’t actually commit. As reported by CalMatters, accountability for a felony murder requires that the individual is proven to be the actual killer or aided with intent to kill. Further, the prosecutor must prove that the individual acted with reckless indifference to the victim’s life and was a major participant in the underlying felonious act.