Press Release

CA Legislature Takes First Step to Challenge Felony Murder Rule

SACRAMENTO – On Thursday, the California State Assembly passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 48, authored by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). SCR 48 renews the Legislature’s intent to reform the Felony Murder Rule.

“Due to the Felony Murder Rule California has many inmates serving life sentences for first degree murder despite the fact they did not actually commit a murder,” stated Senator Skinner, “SCR 48 recognizes that punishment should be proportionate to the actual crime.”

Under the Felony Murder Rule, an individual who was, for example, driving the getaway car or present at the scene but was unaware that a killing would take place, or who was in the same circumstance but an unintentional or accidental killing occurred, can be charged with first degree murder. The United States is the only country in the world to use the Felony Murder Rule; the states of Kentucky, Ohio, Hawaii and Michigan have eliminated the Felony Murder Rule from their statutes.

“It’s time to rethink the Felony Murder Rule, which crudely gives an unarmed robber or getaway driver the same sentence as the person who pulls the trigger,” stated Senator Skinner. “To uphold justice, policy makers must review this law, its flaws, and its unintended consequences.”

One of the bill’s sponsors is #cut50 which is a national bipartisan effort to reduce the number of people in our prisons and jails while making our communities safer. Upon the passage of SCR 48, #cut50 stated “The law should treat people both fairly and equally. Unfortunately, California’s Felony Murder Rule does neither. It is unfair to treat people with vastly different levels of culpability the same. And data shows that sentencing in Felony Murder cases is highly unequal for people of color and the poor. To preserve public safety and advance social justice, California must take a close look at its Felony Murder Rule. This Resolution is an important first step in the long march toward reforming California’s Felony Murder Rule.” 

SCR 48 is supported by a broad coalition of over twenty criminal justice reform organizations and more than one hundred individuals, including #cut50, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Courage Campaign, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Homeboy Industries, and Youth Justice Coalition.