SACRAMENTO — California will no longer allow people to be charged with murder when they were not directly involved in a killing, under a bill signed Sunday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
SB1437 by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, overturns the state’s felony murder rule that holds an accomplice in an offense such as robbery liable for a homicide that happens during the crime, regardless of whether the defendant was involved in the killing.
Instead, under the new law, a suspect can be charged with first-degree murder only if he or she was the actual killer, solicited the murder or aided the slaying in a way that showed a “reckless indifference to human life.” The law will allow those who have been convicted under the felony murder rule to petition a court to be resentenced.
There is one notable exemption: any case in which a police officer is killed.
“California’s murder statute irrationally treated people who did not commit murder the same as those who did,” Skinner said. “SB1437 makes clear there is a distinction, reserving the harshest punishment to those who directly participate in the death.”
Skinner pointed to a 2018 survey by the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and Restore Justice, which found that 72 percent of incarcerated women in the state with a life sentence did not personally commit the murders for which they were convicted. The average age of someone charged as an accomplice to murder is 20.
The bill was opposed by many prosecutors, who urged Brown to veto it.
The California District Attorneys Association said the bill was “well-intentioned” but flawed because it puts communities at risk.