If you have been convicted under the prior “felony murder” rule, you may want to consult with an attorney regarding how to cut years, if not decades, off of your sentence under the new SB 1437 law.
California SB 1437 lawyer, Matthew Barhoma, breaks down how he got two back-to-back SB 1437 wins in 2019. You can do the same, if you meet the criteria under SB 1437.
Appeals attorney Matthew Barhoma, founder of Barhoma Law, P.C., details:
- What is SB 1437?
- The Criteria Needed to get Re-sentenced
- Step-By-Step How to Win your SB 1437 Application
- How a Top-Notch Appeals Attorney Can Help
What is SB 1437?
California murder laws are complex. There are serval legal rules that may deem you guilty of homicide, even if you did not actually kill or intend to kill anyone. In 2019, SB 1437 was signed into law by the governor. It’s a law that applies to current and future cases, meaning, you can apply to be re-sentenced retroactively. SB 1437 has made significant changes to those homicide rules and has effectively ended the “natural and probable consequence” doctrine in murder cases. Namely, it changes Penal Code §§ 188 and 189.
Before, it was much easier for prosecutors to obtain multiple homicide convictions. Now, SB 1437 (or Penal Code § 1170.95) allows inmates to seek re-sentencing of their previous felony murder convictions. As such, this is a retroactive law that can allow inmates to apply post-conviction.
We have won on prior SB 1437 cases where our client’s murder conviction was vacated under this law. One client is now found innocent of murder and is actually walking free. Another was re-sentenced to only robbery and will likely be seeing the light of day in 2020. Before our representation, he was looking at a life term. Both cases were won within six months of retaining our lawyers. As you can see, SB 1437 has deep consequences in materially reducing even life sentences.
To understand SB 1437, you have to compare and contrast the felony-murder law before and after SB 1437.The Old Felony Murder Rule
Under the previous felony murder rule, you were found guilty of first degree homicide or second degree homicide pursuant to the felony-murder rule if:
- You participated in a serious, enumerated felony (robbery, burglary, carjacking, etc.); and
- A victim of the felony died during or as a result of that felony.
Under the old rule, there was no actual requirement that you be involved in the killing or even intend for the killing to occur. But rather, a mere occurrence was sufficient for the prosecutor to get a number of murder convictions.The New Felony Murder Rule
Now, pursuant to SB 1437, the new felony murder rule holds that a person can only be guilty of felony murder, if:
- The person is the actual killer
- The person acted with intent to kill, such as assisting the actual killer or encouraging the killer to kill the victim
- The person was a “major participant in the crime” who acted with “reckless indifference to human life”
- The victim was a police officer, who was killed on the job, and the defendant “knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was a peace officer engaged in the performance of his or her duties.”
To qualify for SB 1437, you cannot be a “major participant” in leading to the homicide. In assessing whether you were a major participant, courts consider a number of factors:
- Did you plan the criminal enterprise that led to the homicide?
- Did you provide the means to killing, such as handing over guns, helping attain weapons, or help purchase the murder weapon?
- The level of awareness you had with the particular dangers of a crime.
- Whether you were present at the time of the actual homicide and/or whether your actions played a role in leading to the physical homicide?
- Whether you knew lethal force was to be used.
The most common cases that find success are cases where the defendant was a mere getaway driver or a physically removed participant in another alleged crime. For example, in one of the cases we won on SB 1437, we were successful in arguing that our client was “a mere bystander to homicide” when his co-defendant entered into a store to steal money. After a struggle in the store, the co-defendant killed an employee. Our client never entered the store, never supplied a weapon, and never agreed to kill anyone. The Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center agreed with our assertions, and our client was vacated of a murder conviction. He will likely be released in 2020.
The following people can be re-sentenced under SB 1437:
- Someone convicted of first degree murder
- Someone convicted of second degree murder
- Someone that accepted a plea offer, who could have been plausibly convicted of first or second degree murder, and had they not accepted the plea, they would have been convicted at trial.
First, to win your SB 1437, you or your attorney must file a petition with the court where you were sentenced. This petition will make a number of decelerations regarding your eligibility, as discussed above.
At Barhoma Law, P.C., we like to include a number of items with your petition. For instance, we include basic facts such as your case number, years sentenced, years served, and potentially a memorandum of points and authorities arguing for your release. When you do not have a skillful lawyer do this, you’ll merely turn in the petition. And in our experience, the likelihood of the court denying your petition on its face more than doubles when no points and authorities are included. From there, you and your lawyer file and serve the district attorney with your petition. In the two SB 1437 successes our lawyers got in 2019, both petitions were supported by facts and evidence.
From there, the district attorney may file an opposition to your petition, as they commonly do. You will then have an opportunity to respond to that opposition in a rebuttal filing.
The court will issue a prima facie hearing, which is a hearing to determine whether you meet the bare-bones criteria of the law. You must advocate hard at this hearing, as it’s the first of three steps to win your resentencing. After the prima facie hearing, the court will make a determination that there is enough evidence to advance to the next phase, which is the Order to Show Cause. This is an evidentiary hearing. Getting this far is a very good sign.
At the Order to Show Cause, you are allowed to present evidence, which is rare for post-conviction matters. We usually recommend you put together strong evidence of the facts to establish you meet the SB 1437 criteria. You may call witnesses, present cell records, provide written testimony and declarations, etc. Once the Order to Show Cause is determined, the court makes a ruling whether or not to resentence you. This is essentially a ruling on your SB 1437 petition.
If the court rules in your favor, the court will issue a sentencing hearing. You will still want to be represented by counsel in this phase, as sentencing laws are very complex.How a Top-Notch Appeals Attorney Can Help
Winning a resentencing hearing is a skill. It requires a skillful, articulate, and respected lawyer. Barhoma Law, P.C., led by Matthew Barhoma, has had successes in this area precisely because we go through the various steps with skillful and methodical approach.
The more thoroughly your attorney reviews the record, the more bases you may be able to find in meeting the criteria. This is why you want to hire an attorney with a record of success – SB 1437 appeals require a methodical approach.Back to Top
Call us at (213) 800-7664 to learn how we can handle your SB 1437.