They Didn’t Kill, Why Is It Murder? Senators Skinner, Anderson and Advocates Rally for SB 1437: Fixing Felony Murder 

August 21, 2018

Sacramento, CA — At a morning press conference on the west steps of the State Capitol, Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Senator Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) were joined by Re:store Justice; the NAACP; and others in support of SB 1437, which would reform California’s felony murder rule. SB 1437 passed out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee last week and now awaits a vote on the Assembly Floor.

Speakers included individuals who had been sentenced or had loved ones imprisoned under felony murder, as well as those who have lost loved ones to homicide, but nevertheless feel strongly that felony murder is unjust and must be reformed.

“Most people have no idea that you can be charged with murder and given a life sentence even if you didn’t kill anyone,” said Senator Skinner. “The felony murder law irrationally treats those who did not commit murder the same as those who did.”

Under California’s 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 narrow California’s “felony murder” rule to ensure that individuals are charged appropriately for the crime they committed. SB 1437 restricts the most serious murder charges to those who actually commit a murder or play a major role in a murder. SB 1437 also establishes a process for those who were sentenced under the current interpretation of felony murder to seek resentencing.

SB 1437 would align California with states such as Arkansas, Kentucky, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Michigan that have narrowed the scope of the felony murder rule and limited the application of their murder statutes.

“The vast majority of women serving life sentences for felony murder did not commit murder, yet they were charged and sentenced the same as the actual murderer,” said Skinner. “SB 1437 is a fair and just fix to California’s murder statute.” 

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.