California inmates serving time for murder could soon get a second chance. A new bill limits the state's authority to convict defendants charged with felony murder. The bill also allows inmates incarcerated on felony murder convictions to apply for re-sentencing.
Felony murder is a type of homicide charge which allows a person to be convicted of being an accomplice to murder that he or she did not commit. The felony murder rule has traditionally allowed prosecutors to convict defendants for murder if they were involved with others in the commission of another serious felony such as robbery, even if they were not present when the murder was committed. Under this rule, it was possible for a person to be convicted for a murder charge even if they were driving a getaway car and a murder was committed outside their presence, even if they had no idea that any accomplices were armed or intended to commit any violent crimes.
Supporters of the bill argue that the felony murder rule has been disproportionately applied against minorities and women. They say that change will ensure that the right people are punished for murders.
Law enforcement and victim advocacy group opposed the change, arguing that it would allow criminals who allowed a murder to happen to go free.
An attorney who is experienced in defending violent crimes may be able to assist anyone who has been charged or convicted of murder. An attorney may be able to help clients understand what types of punishment they are facing by explaining the minimum and maximum penalties for the crime, including whether or not they have been charged as an accomplice. Accomplices can sometimes be punished as harshly as co-defendants who played a greater role in committing the crime, although a judge or jury can consider the defendant's lesser involvement. Prosecutors may sometimes ask co-defendants to testify against each other in exchange for a lesser sentence.