California Senate Passes Senator Skinner’s SB 1437 BESTT Practices bill

May 30, 2018

California Senate Passes Senator Skinner’s SB 1437 BESTT Practices bill

Today, SB 1437, “Better and Equitable Sentencing Through Thoughtful (BESTT) Practices” by State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), passed the California Senate today on a bipartisan vote. SB 1437 was introduced to clarify the application of California’s “felony murder” rule to ensure that individuals are charged appropriately for the crime they actually committed. Skinner’s bill must now pass the Assembly and be signed by Governor Brown to become law.

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 or plan 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.

“Punishment should fit the crime,” said Senator Skinner. “SB 1437 directs our toughest punishments to individuals whose actions were intentional rather than sweeping up those who may have had little to no role in the crime.”

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.

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.