You can seek justice through resentencing if you believe your murder penalties and conviction were unfair. Thanks to Senate Bill 1437, which changed California's felony law, The new law limits murder defendants to those who demonstrate plans to commit murder. Resentencing can have your charges reduced or even dropped. This law's legislative motive ensures that criminal sentences match the accused's guilt and reduce prison overcrowding. If you have a murder conviction and seek to vacate it, please consult Chula Vista Criminal Attorney. Our professional lawyers are competent and acquainted with the law changes and can determine whether you are eligible, explain the petition process, and show you how to handle the case effectively.

An Overview of a Petition to Vacate Your California Murder Conviction

California felony murder charges are aggressively prosecuted, carrying life-altering penalties and consequences. Under this felony-murder rule, if an individual engaged in felonious conduct and killed somebody else, they would face felony murder charges even if they did not purposely kill the deceased or played an insignificant role in the murder commission. The defendant would be convicted even if they were not the killer, but:

  • Abetted And Aided,
  • Solicited,
  • Assisted,
  • Killed,
  • Requested,
  • Induced, or
  • Counseled.

The killer during the murder crime commission or the defendant was a significant participant in the California felony, and their conduct was reckless and indifferent to human life.

For instance, if you broke into a grocery store and the cashier started chasing you as you ran out, they pulled a firearm to shoot but missed and shot a bystander at the door, murdering them. In this case, you would face murder charges even if you were not the killer.

The old felony-murder rule resulted in unfair convictions and was amended in 2018 when Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1437. SB 1437 amended California Penal Code Sections 189 and 188, changing the legal definitions of murder and malice.

Additionally, the bill resulted in Penal Code Section 1170.95, allowing individuals convicted of California murder or felony murder per the natural and probable consequence (NPC) theory to bring a petition to vacate their convictions. The amendment requires the defendant’s accountability for the murder to be premised on their conduct.

Vacate means rendering or overruling something null and void. The government will delete a conviction from your criminal record if it is vacated.

The rationale behind SB 1437 is to have just sentences that measure up to the defendant’s liability and reduce prison overcrowding. According to the California legislature, a lengthy sentence does not always correspond to the degree of accountability of an individual who didn’t violate the murder law.

Today, an individual can only be sentenced for murder if they directly killed another, played a crucial role in the crime, planned the victim’s murder, or acted with reckless indifference to human life.

For an individual to be sentenced for murder under amended PC 188, they should have acted with malice, which must not be linked to them based on their participation in the crime. Also, the amended PC 189 includes a subsection that holds a defendant guilty only when any of these conditions apply:

  • The individual was the killer.
  • The individual was not the real killer but had a plan to kill, aid, abet, counsel, request, assist, induce, or command the actual killers when committing first-degree murder.
  • The individual was a major participant in the California felony crime and acted recklessly, indifferent to human life.

The law is retroactive. It allows a defendant who believes their conviction was biased to bring a petition in court seeking to overrule their sentence, provided the murder is per the NPC theory. A successful petition can result in your murder charges being dropped or reduced.

An NPC is one that a practical individual would know can happen if anything unusual occurs. A judge determines whether a consequence is probable and natural by considering the facts of the case.

Penal Code Section 1170.95 PC applies to an individual who meets all the following:

  • An accuser brought an indictment, information, or complaint against the defendant that permitted the prosecution team to charge you under the NPC doctrine or a felony murder theory.
  • The accused was sentenced for either second-degree murder or first-degree murder following their trial or took a plea bargain offer in place of a court trial where the accused could be sentenced for California murder.
  • The defendant would not be sentenced for first-degree murder owing to changes to sections 189 and 188 made effective in 2018.

Please note that you are ineligible for this post-conviction relief if:

  • You were the killer.
  • You were not the killer but aided and abetted the real killer, who planned to commit the murder.
  • The alleged victim was a law enforcement officer on duty.

Prima Facie

Prima facie means the situation where the submitted proof is enough to establish a legal matter unless there is evidence to fight the proof. Prima facie is the proof of a lawfully argued presumption. It is the reason for defense or action to demonstrate that the evidence justifies a verdict in your favor, provided somebody else does not refuse that evidence.

Defining a Major Participant Who Acted with Reckless Disregard for Human Life

During the resentencing hearing, the prosecutor must establish beyond any reasonable doubt that you were a major participant in the crime and acted with reckless disregard for human life.

The California courts consider the factors below to determine whether you were a major participant in the murder:

  • Your responsibility when planning the crime that resulted in the killing.
  • Whether you supplied or used lethal weapons.
  • Your awareness of the risks brought forth by the nature of your California felony, the firearm used, or your accomplice’s conduct.
  • Whether you were present at the crime scene.
  • Your conduct after using lethal force.
  • Whether your conduct or inaction resulted in the demise.

According to the court, neither of these factors is essential nor necessary enough, making it within the court’s discretion to determine.

Reckless Disregard to Human Life

The Supreme Court and California Courts of Appeal have ruled that the judge should assess your role in the death, not your vicarious liability for the offense, to determine whether you acted with reckless disregard for human life.

The judge should consider the following when determining whether you acted in reckless disregard for human life regarding felony murder responsibility:

  • Your knowledge of firearms, their use, and the number of firearms.
  • Whether you are present at the crime scene (Whether you have the opportunity to prevent the murder or help the victim).
  • Whether you knew another person was likely to kill.
  • The duration of the deceased’s restraint before their murder.
  • Your attempt to minimize the likelihood of violence when violating the law.

Penalties and Consequences for Murder, Per SB 1437

The penalties and consequences depend on the felony murder charge.

You commit first-degree murder if you kill someone while committing a felony. Under Penal Code Section 189, these felonies are:

  • Carjacking.
  • Rape.
  • Arson.
  • Torture.
  • Mayhem.
  • Lewd conduct with a minor
  • Sodomy.
  • Robbery.
  • Burglary.

If charged with first-degree murder, you can spend up to twenty-five years in California state prison. Additionally, you can serve a life sentence in prison without parole or face the death penalty.

On the contrary, second-degree murder is a murder that does not satisfy the first-degree murder qualifications. The crime carries a maximum sentence of fifteen years in prison.

Filing Your Petition and Its Requirements

Per California Penal Code Section 1170.95, you, the petitioner, should serve the petition to the prosecuting authority in the county where you were convicted. If the judge who presided over your criminal case is unavailable, they will assign another judge to rule on your SB 1437 petition.

Your petition should contain details about:

  • Your case number.
  • Your conviction year.
  • A statement that you qualify for PC 1170.95 relief hinging on the previously discussed requirements.
  • Your conviction charges and sentence.

Your defense lawyer should also serve copies of the same document to the District Attorney in the sentencing court. The case will proceed to trial if the court believes you qualify.

Procedures, Formalities, and Requirements for Your Petition Court Hearing

The prosecution should respond to your SB 1437 petition within sixty (60) days of receiving it. You should also submit your response within thirty (30) days after that. If any party demonstrates good cause, the court will extend the timeframe.

After the judge issues the order to prove good cause, the court should schedule a court proceeding within sixty (60) days to decide whether to resentence you or vacate your conviction. Nevertheless, the prosecutor and defense attorney can waive your court hearing, qualifying you to vacate your conviction. Additionally, it applies if the court discovers that you were not a major participant in the crime or did not behave with reckless disregard for human life.

During your court hearing, the prosecutor should establish that you do not meet the requirements to be resentenced or vacate your California murder conviction. Should the prosecution team fail to demonstrate this standard, the judge will either resentence you on your remaining criminal counts or vacate your murder conviction. Your defense attorney and the prosecutor should depend on your hearing transcripts and produce new proof.

If the judge grants relief, but the charge was generic, and the prosecutor did not charge your target offense, the court should redesignate your conviction as your target offense or California felony for resentencing.

Typically, defendants who are resentenced receive credits for the term served. The accused can be required to serve a three-year parole sentence after completing their term.

Is There a Deadline for Bringing Your Petition?

Submitting your petition does not have a deadline. Suppose the case is not closed in court. In that case, if there is a pending petition for review or the defendant is appealing the conviction and the deadline for bringing a petition for review from an unjust court of appeals decision has not passed, the defendant should hire a lawyer before filing.

The lawyer can use SB 1437 provisions in the accused’s pending appeal, and if they bring a petition to the courts, it can affect their efforts.

How California Law on Vacating a Judgment Differs With a Petition to Vacate Your Murder Conviction

PC 1018 allows you to bring a motion to vacate a judgment. It is also referred to as a motion to withdraw a plea. You can legally apply if you can prove a good cause under limited circumstances. You should file your motion within six (6) months if sentenced to probation or before sentencing. You can bring the motion if you have served time in jail or prison.

The judge will allow you to withdraw and replace your plea if you did not have legal representation when you entered your plea. Additionally, you can substitute or withdraw if your criminal defense lawyer is incompetent. The law also requires you to petition the court to modify your sentence.

The legislators introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 2867 to amend Penal Code 1437.7 on criminal convictions. Per AB 2867, a defendant sentenced for California murder cannot have their verdict withdrawn. That is how motions to vacate your criminal judgment differ from petitions to vacate California murder convictions.

Typically, a motion is an oral or written application presented before the judge to seek an order or verdict in a proceeding case. Conversely, a petition is a written request that results in a proceeding. Therefore, instead of bringing a motion seeking to vacate the murder conviction, you should present your petition. Your filed petition requests the authority to be exercised once the judge grants the relief.

6th Amendment Rights to the United States Constitution and Senate Bill 1437 Relief

Your Sixth Amendment rights remain the same whether you decide to face imprisonment or appeal if you have completed your murder trial. Since seeking Senate Bill 1437 relief involves the court process, you are entitled to constitutional rights.

Under your 6th Amendment rights, you have the right to:

  • Fair public trial.
  • Speedy trial.
  • An attorney of your choice.

Alternatives to a Petition to Vacate Your Murder Conviction

Discussed below are other post-conviction relief options that existed before the passing of SB 1437.

A Motion to Modify a Sentence

You can file a petition to modify your sentence if convicted and sentenced for murder. In your motion, you should ask the judge to modify your sentence by:

  • Reducing your sentence’s length.
  • Changing your sentencing conditions.

You can file your petition regardless of whether you are sentenced for a felony or a misdemeanor.

In response to your motion, the judge can either:

  • Change your sentence.
  • Revoke your sentence.
  • Postpone the sentence.
  • Issue a stay of paying fines.

You can file your motion with the court after your original sentence, provided good cause exists.

Governor’s Pardon

A California governor’s pardon is an acknowledgment from the governor that you have been rehabilitated following a conviction. It relieves you of almost every penalty linked to your sentence.

Almost any defendant convicted of murder can seek a pardon following a satisfactory rehabilitation period of seven to ten years from when they completed parole or probation.

The governor can only grant the governor’s pardon if:

  • It has been more than ten (10) years since you completed parole or probation, and.
  • You have not committed a severe offense during the ten-year timeframe.

Granting the pardon is within the governor’s discretion.

There are several ways to obtain a governor’s pardon, including:

  • Bringing a petition for a Certificate of Rehabilitation from the superior court.
  • Applying to the governor’s office.
  • Receiving a recommendation for a pardon from the California Board of Parole Hearings.

Filing an Appeal

If you believe the criminal justice system has wronged you, you can bring an appeal. The appeal requests the higher court (appellate court) to review what occurred in the lower court to check if errors in the lower court significantly affected your rights.

Please note that your appeal is not a new trial, and the higher court will not:

  • Consider your new evidence.
  • Retry your case, or
  • Accept witness testimonies.

Defendants bring California felony appeals to the Court of Appeal. You should file the appeal in the county where your trial occurred. You should bring a Notice of Appeal to the appeals court within sixty days of your judgment.

The Court of Appeal does not decide questions of fact but considers questions of law, limiting itself to legal issues. Its only concern is whether your murder case proceedings adhered to California law.

If the California appellate court thinks your court proceedings were legal, it will affirm your original sentence. In this case, you can request the California Supreme Court (a higher court) to review the appeal.

If the appeals court determines there was a prejudicial legal mistake, it will:

  • Reverse your sentence or conviction, or
  • Remand your criminal case.

How to Effectively File Your Petition to Vacate Your Murder Conviction

Once you are ready to bring your petition to court, here are some rules to follow:

Ensure you take the original plus at least two copies of your documents. The court will keep the original. The court clerk will stamp your copies “Filed” before returning them to you. You can make more copies if you need them.

  • Ensure you use the correct case number on your papers.
  • Some jurisdictions have filing rules. Therefore, ask the clerk in the court if local regulations apply to your case.

If you want to file your paperwork by mail, call the clerk and ask:

  • The number of copies you should include in your original documents.
  • The filing fee and the acceptable payment methods.
  • The court’s mailing address.

Like most court filings, the SB 1437 petition requires a filing fee. If you cannot afford the filing fee, you can be eligible for a fee waiver.

Keep the Court Updated

After filing your petition in court, you should keep the court updated with changes in your phone number or address. If your address with the court is outdated, you could:

  • Miss essential court notices,
  • Miss paperwork filed by the prosecution and
  • Lose your rights.

You should bring a Notice of Change of Address with the court whenever you change your address to keep it updated.

Why Seek Legal Representation?

When filing a petition to vacate your conviction, it is tempting to self-represent to reduce costs. However, the consequences of not engaging an attorney can outweigh saving money. Here are reasons you should seek seasoned legal representation.

  • Your lawyer is a subject matter expert — Regarding the finest details of your petition, nobody is more experienced and knowledgeable than your attorney. Once you hire the legal team at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we will do our homework on the case, ensuring even seemingly minor details impact the outcome.
  • Laws are complicated — Legal jargon and understanding California law can be challenging to navigate. That is why your lawyer spent time in school and passed their examination to prove their knowledge. Your attorney also has relevant resources to assist them with your criminal case.
  • Your lawyer is objective — While it might seem negative, it does not mean the legal professional does not have your best interests at heart. It means they are less likely to disrupt the courtroom and will have less clouded judgment regarding your petition. A fact-oriented, level-headed mindset in the courtroom is vital when presenting your petition.
  • Your attorney knows courtroom etiquette— You should petition and present evidence professionally. Presenting matters in court requires a knowledgeable individual to jump through the legal hoops to strengthen your case.

Find a Post-Conviction Relief Attorney Near Me

A California murder conviction can have life-changing consequences beyond hefty fines and lengthy incarceration. The California legislature passed SB 1437, allowing defendants who believe they were unjustly convicted of murder to vacate their sentences. If successful, your petition can lead to your charges being reduced or dropped. However, filing this post-conviction relief involves technicalities and requires an attorney who can protect your legal rights and negotiate effectively to obtain the second chance you need. Chula Vista Criminal Attorney can analyze your case facts to find a viable legal ground for seeking a vacation of your murder conviction. We invite you to call us at 619-877-6894 for a free case review with our experienced legal team to learn how we can help you.