September 18, 2022 By Paul Wallin

California’s Felony Murder Law 

The felony murder rule has been around for a long time. It provides that a person can be convicted of murder if a victim dies during the commission of a felony, even if the defendant didn’t intend to or have knowledge that he had killed someone. As long as you committed or aided in an inherently dangerous felony, you can be on the hook for a murder charge. 

Throughout its application, the felony murder rule has faced wide criticism for contributing to jail overcrowding, heavy costs, and sentencing difficulty. Furthermore, the rule has been shown to do little to deter violent crime, and when it is applied, it is almost always applied disproportionately to people of color. Historically, this law has led to thousands of people facing death or life without parole sentences, despite their level of intention or culpability. Even minor participants who were not even on the scene faced the same sentencing as actual murderers who intended to kill. 

Senate Bill 300 

Despite its long history, the felony murder rule is facing possible changes. Senate Bill 300 (SB 300) is a proposed law that seeks to address the injustices of the felony murder rule. Specifically, the bill will allow for a sentence other than the death penalty or life without parole for a defendant who did not actually kill anyone, nor intend for anyone to die. SB 300 allows for judicial discretion in imposing a sentence of 25 years to life when the judge rules that it serves the interest of justice. 

Additionally, the bill in its current form is retroactive, meaning it would apply to old cases. This could reduce the sentence for certain inmates who are convicted of murder and allow those who are not the actual killer to be considered for parole release. Some inmates who have already served significant time could be considered for parole immediately, and those who haven’t could be resentenced and given a lower sentence. 

SB 300 would also close a large loophole in another Senate Bill, SB 1437. SB 1437 allowed the dismissal of murder convictions for inmates who had been convicted under the felony murder law. However, the bill did not allow relief to a person who acted with reckless indifference to human life. As such, defendants who acted recklessly could still receive a sentence for life without parole. SB 300, on the other hand, would now allow defendants who acted recklessly to be considered for parole release. 

Future of the Felony Murder Rule 

Despite steps to reform the California criminal justice system, there is still a long way to go for those facing the death penalty or life without parole under the felony murder law. In order for SB 300 to pass, it needs a majority vote in the California Senate and State Assembly, after which it would go to the Governor to sign into law. Over the past decade, the state’s voters and Legislature have taken important steps to reduce the state’s reliance on punishment and incarceration, including for defendants serving long sentences for serious crimes. These reforms have allowed for many convicted inmates to return to their families and get the help they need for mental health, substance addiction, and education. At Wallin & Klarich, we are committed to supporting these reforms, as we believe everyone deserves a chance at rehabilitation and freedom. 

Contact Wallin & Klarich Today 

If you have been arrested for a felony, contact Wallin & Klarich as soon as possible to see how we can help. With 40+ years of experience, Wallin & Klarich is your best choice amongst Southern California criminal defense firms. Our attorneys have helped thousands of clients accused of serious felony crimes, including murder, and we have the skills and resources to help you avoid heavy jail sentences. We are successful because on a daily basis, we keep up-to-date on all changes in the law that can benefit our clients. 

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Torrance, West Covina, Los Angeles, and San Diego, you are sure to find an available and convenient attorney near you. 

Discover how our team can assist you. Contact us today, toll-free at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free consultation with a skilled defense attorney.

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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