October 23, 2019 By Paul Wallin

California Courts Fighting to Keep the Old Felony Murder Rule

In recent years, Californians, through the Governor’s office and the state legislature, have pushed for a number of criminal justice reforms. However, a few courts in southern California aren’t ready to give up on an old rule that has an estimated 800 inmates stuck in prison on murder charges for killings they did not actually commit.

It is called the felony murder rule, and the basic principle had been that if you committed a felony crime, and in the course of the crime, your accomplice killed someone, you could be charged with murder, even though your accomplice was the person responsible for the victim’s death. 

In 2018, a new law changed California’s felony murder rule. The new law restricted the felony murder rule to only the person or persons who actually did the killing, who aided the killing with the intent to kill, or who acted with reckless disregard to human life during the course of the felony.

Orange County Judge Rules Law Unconstitutional

Once the law passed, hundreds of inmates across the state convicted under the old rule applied to the courts for a second look at their cases. Some inmates have been granted a release from their convictions. However, in Orange County, one judge started a trend, and several other courts have begun to follow.

The Orange County judge ruled that because voters passed two previous ballot measures, Proposition 7 in 1978 and Proposition 115 in 1990, the legislature’s laws must be bound by the will of the voters. Proposition 7 expanded the death penalty to include more crimes and extended first-degree murder to felony murder cases. Proposition 115 stated the legislature would need to have a two-thirds majority to change the felony murder law. Because the new law, known as SB1437, passed by a simple majority, the judge ruled the law was unconstitutional.

Several judges in other southern California counties like San Bernardino have used the same argument in denying petitions for resentencing under the new law. However, it is not a universally accepted ruling, as judges in Los Angeles county have been following the new law.

The People’s Representatives Have the Right to Make Laws

Wallin & Klarich believes we have a system in this state in which we elect persons to make the laws for us, as well as to allow voters to directly vote on proposed laws. This is a case where the laws passed by the Legislature are being limited by votes cast more than 40 years ago when our society’s view on crime and punishment were far more severe than they have been in recent years. In the last decade, California’s voters have approved ballot measures reducing several non-violent and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and have even legalized the recreational use of marijuana. SB1437 was a bill with bipartisan support in the legislature, where assembly members and senators must consider the will of the people they represent in their districts and decided that they would approve this law. The courts cannot deny that their role is to interpret the law not only in by examining its text, but also the intent of the Legislature in recognizing that voters’ views on criminal justice have changed since 1978 and 1990

The people and their duly elected representatives have spoken. The courts must allow these petitions to go through if they are properly presented to the court and meet the requirements under SB1437.

Contact Criminal Defense Attorney Wallin & Klarich

If you or a loved one has been accused of murder, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Wallin & Klarich as soon as possible. We are committed to providing you with the personal attention you deserve and expect to help you overcome this difficult situation.

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance, and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.

Call our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (714) 386-7128 for a free phone consultation. We’ll get through this together.

AUTHOR: Paul Wallin

Paul Wallin is one of the most highly respected attorneys in Southern California. His vast experience, zealous advocacy for his clients and extensive knowledge of many areas of the law make Mr. Wallin a premiere Southern California attorney. Mr. Wallin founded Wallin & Klarich in 1981. As the senior partner of Wallin & Klarich, Mr. Wallin has been successfully representing clients for more than 30 years. Clients come to him for help in matters involving assault and battery, drug crimes, juvenile crimes, theft, manslaughter, sex offenses, murder, violent crimes, misdemeanors and felonies. Mr. Wallin also helps clients with family law matters such as divorce and child custody.

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