California Bill to Reform the Felony Murder Rule Backed by Legal Luminaries Across the Country

Under the antiquated felony murder rule, all accomplices in certain crimes may be charged with first degree murder, even if the accomplice did not kill, nor intend to kill, and even if the death was accidental. SB 1437, if passed, would reform existing laws by exempting accomplices who did not kill from first degree murder liability.

Re:store Justice is pleased to announce that legal luminaries from across the United States, including the co-founders of the Innocence Project, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld; Stephen Bright from the Southern Center for Human Rights; Dean Strang, the dedicated lawyer in "Making a Murderer"; and Erwin Chemerinsky, professor and dean of Berkeley Law, have joined other law professors and scholars from California in support of the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill Senate Bill 1437. SB 1437 was introduced by California State Senators Nancy Skinner (D) and Joel Anderson (R).

In their support letter, these scholars write:  

"As attorneys and law professors, many of the below signatories have not only witnessed, but have studied and researched incarceration trends in California and in the nation . . . Reforming the felony murder rule is necessary in order to address racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system.  It is also necessary to ensure that those who did not act with the intent to harm another are not sentenced out of proportion to their culpability."

If passed, SB 1437, would reform existing laws by exempting accomplices who did not kill nor intend to kill from first degree murder liability. A major and unique aspect of SB 1437 is that the Legislature would make relief retroactive: hundreds of prisoners who are currently serving life sentences in California under the felony murder rule and other theories that impose liability on accomplices who did not kill nor intend to kill would be eligible to petition the court for re-sentencing and relief from a life sentence in state prison. 

SB 1437 was passed with a super-majority of the California Senate and is currently in the Assembly.

The Assembly Public Safety has approved it and it will go to Assembly Appropriations on Aug. 8. If it passes through Appropriations, the Assembly Floor Vote will take place by Aug. 31.

For more information regarding this, please contact Julie Mai at or (714) 316-8012.

Source: Re:store Justice


Categories: Public Safety

Tags: california criminal justice reform, california public safety, criminal justice system, felony murder rule, sentencing reform