Senator Skinner’s SB 1437 BESTT Practices Act Passes Key Committee

April 24, 2018

Senator Skinner’s SB 1437 BESTT Practices Act Passes Key Committee

Today, SB 1437, the Better and Equitable Sentencing Through Thoughtful (BESTT) Practices Act by State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) passed out of the Public Safety Committee and will now go on to Senate Appropriations. SB 1437 was introduced to clarify the use of California’s “felony murder” rule to ensure that individuals are charged appropriately for the crime they actually committed.

Under California’s current application of the felony murder rule, a person who participates in any portion of certain felonies that result in a death can be charged with first-degree murder. In practice this means that even if someone was unaware that a killing would or did take place, they could still face a first-degree murder charge and receive a sentence that is equally or, in some cases, more severe than the one handed down to the person who actually committed murder.

SB 1437 would clarify California’s murder statutes to reserve the most serious murder charges for those who actually commit a homicide and/or who knowingly participate in an act intended to kill. SB 1437 also establishes a process for those who may have been wrongfully sentenced under the current interpretation of felony murder to seek resentencing.

The concept of felony murder has an unusual lineage, going back to English common law from hundreds of years ago. Reformers have pointed to felony murder’s archaic origins and lack of fairness as reasons for ending it. The Supreme Court of Canada found felony murder rules unconstitutional, and England—the country where the felony murder rule was first created— has now abolished the felony murder rule.

SB 1437 would align California with Canada and England, as well as states such as Arkansas, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Hawaii, Michigan, and Ohio that have narrowed the scope of the felony murder rule and limited the application of their murder statutes. Ohio, for example, now requires that a killing that occurs during a felony be intentional in order to receive a first-degree murder conviction.

“Punishment should fit the crime. Our toughest punishments should be for people who kill or act with an intent to kill,” said Skinner, “not people who may have done wrong but had no intent to kill.”

Senator Nancy Skinner (@NancySkinnerCA) represents the 9th Senate District. She serves as Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee and the Budget Subcommittee on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary.