Governor Brown Signs SB 1437, Senator Skinner’s Historic Fix to California’s Unjust Felony Murder Rule

September 30, 2018

Sacramento, CA — Today Governor Brown signed SB 1437, Senator Nancy Skinner’s (D-Berkeley) historic fix to California’s felony murder rule. SB 1437 narrows the definition of felony murder so that individuals are charged appropriately for the crime they actually commit.

“Most people have no idea that under California’s current murder statute you can be charged with murder and given a life sentence even if you didn’t kill or have a direct role in a murder,” said Senator Skinner. “SB 1437 is a fair and reasonable fix to California’s unjust felony murder rule.”

Under California’s long-standing felony murder rule, a person who participated in any portion of certain felonies that result in a death could be charged with first-degree murder. In practice this meant that even if someone was unaware that a killing would or did take place, they could still have faced a first-degree murder charge and received a sentence that was equally as severe as the one handed down to the person who actually committed murder.

SB 1437 restricts the most serious murder charges to those who actually commit a murder, play a major role in a murder or act with reckless indifference to human life. SB 1437 also establishes a process for those who were sentenced under the previous felony murder statute to petition the court for a resentencing hearing.

SB 1437 aligns 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 treated people who did not commit murder the same as those who did. SB 1437 makes clear there is a distinction, reserving the harshest punishment to those who directly participate in the death,” said Skinner. “I’m proud and thankful that Governor Brown signed this historic reform into law.”

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.