Legislature Sends SB 1437, Historic Fix to California’s Unjust Felony Murder Rule, to the Governor’s Desk

August 30, 2018

Sacramento, CA — Today, with bipartisan support, the California Legislature passed SB 1437 Senator Nancy Skinner’s (D-Berkeley) historic fix to California’s felony murder rule. Skinner’s bill now awaits Governor Brown’s signature.

“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. “SB 1437 is a fair and reasonable fix to California’s unjust felony murder rule.”

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 as severe as 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.

“California’s murder statute irrationally treats someone who did not commit murder the same as someone who did. SB 1437 makes clear there is a distinction, reserving the harshest punishment to those who directly participated in the death,” said Skinner. “I’m proud to send this historic reform to the Governor’s desk.”

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.