Murder is, unquestionably, one of the most serious of all crimes that an individual can be accused of committing. In these cases, mounting the most aggressive defense possible may be the only strategy that will result in acquittal. Retaining the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney, and especially one having expertise in defending against charges of murder, is absolutely imperative. Criminal law in California, like that of most other states, is based on English Common Law. One aspect of Common Law which has been retained in statutory form is felony murder, a charge that effectively considers a killing during the commission of a felony as if all participants committed homicide. And, until recently, felony murder was the law in California. However, in late 2018, this law was repealed. But, the validity of this repeal in light of California’s Constitution, is in doubt, as an Orange County Superior Court has held that the repeal violates California’s Constitution. A discussion of the law, as it currently stands, along with arguments of its validity, will follow below.
Felony Murder and Senate Bill 1437
In Common Law, murder, or homicide, is a specific intent crime, meaning that the aggressor must have actually intended to take the life of another. In some cases, intent is inferred if the aggressor acted with extreme indifference to the life of another. However, there is another category of murder in Common Law jurisdictions – felony murder. Felony murder is intended to broaden the crime of murder, by noting that, when an aggressor kills another in the commission of a felony, the aggressor, and any of his/her accomplices or co-conspirators, may be found guilty of murder. In this manner, the intent aspect of murder is eliminated. Thus, for example, if an aggressor is committing arson – a felony – and inadvertently kills a person who is in the building, that aggressor can be charged with both arson and felony murder. The concept of felony murder is based on transferred intent. In other words, the intent inherent in the commission of a felony is considered to apply to any consequences of that felony, however unintended.
California, until last year, had a felony murder rule on the books. However, SB 1437 virtually eliminated that law. Thus, currently, an aggressor who commits a felony will be liable for murder only if one of the following elements are true:
- The aggressor was the actual killer;
- The aggressor was not the actual killer, but, with an intent to kill, the aggressor aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, solicited, requested, or assisted the actual killer in the commission of murder; or
- The aggressor was a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life.
Effectively, this new law puts an intent element into felony murder.
Petition for Vacation
In addition to repealing felony murder, the new law allows those convicted of the old rule to petition for vacation of the conviction. Thus, a person convicted of felony murder may file a petition with the court to have the conviction vacated if the new law, if in force at the time of the conviction, would have prevented a conviction for felony murder.
Speak to a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with felony murder, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Manshoory Law Group, APC as soon as possible. It is important that you make every argument possible to defeat the charges against you. The attorneys at our office have years of experience in criminal defense law, including felony murder under current law. We will analyze the circumstances of your case, and if we believe you have a claim to have the charge overturned, we will help you ensure that you have the best possible chance at success. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Do not wait’ contact us today for an initial consultation.