Orange County Criminal Attorney is a law firm that serves clients in Orange County and surrounding communities. Our attorneys have a deep understanding of the California criminal law and can assist you in any case involving a petition to vacate murder conviction.
An Overview of Petition to Vacate Murder Conviction Under California Law
Under California Penal Code 1170.95 PC, a petition to vacate murder conviction allows eligible individuals to petition the court seeking a resentencing or entire vacation of their murder conviction. On September 30, 2018, the then California governor Jerry Brown signed and approved Senate Bill 1437 that brought changes to California State's laws relating to felony murders.
A person convicted or sentenced for felony murder can file a Motion for Resentencing (MFR) with the help of an attorney. In this motion, the convicted individual asks the judge to modify or change the sentence. For instance, the convicted person may request for a reduction of their sentencing. They may also request to have their sentencing conditions changed. In response to a motion for resentencing, the judge may fail to approve the motion. The judge may also amend, revoke, or postpone the sentence.
A convicted person can file a motion for resentencing at any time after the original sentencing as long as they have a reasonable reason to file the petition.
In some instances, the court may decide to change a sentence. If a clerical error was made during the sentencing, the court might make immediate amends. The court will also amend a sentence if it was illegal or if the court committed a judicial mistake while making the sentence.
Petition to vacate murder conviction law ensures that criminal sentences are just, and equal the liability of a person. It is particularly beneficial to a person facing murder charges but is not the actual killer as it helps reduce their lengthy sentences. Petition to vacate murder conviction also helps reduce overcrowding in prisons.
Conditions for Petition to Vacate Murder Conviction
For eligibility to seek a petition for resentencing or to vacate a murder conviction, you have to satisfy some conditions. You are eligible if your conviction falls under felony murder rule or natural and probable consequences theory. If you are the actual killer, you cannot successfully vacate your murder conviction. You can only succeed if you were an accomplice in the murder. That means that you may have assisted the actual killer in executing the crime, but you were not the killer.
Senate Bill 1437
The bill came into effect in 2018 and transformed California's law relating to felony murder. It is important to note that the bill is retroactive. Therefore, the Senate bill applies to defendants that were accused and convicted of felony murder even before the bill came into effect. Therefore, individuals convicted of felony murder under the old law may seek a petition under the new law.
The new law may offer them redemption and facilitate a reduction of their previous sentencing. Under the SB 1437, you are eligible for the petition if:
- Your charge sheet indicates that the prosecutor presented your crime as felony murder or natural and probable consequence theory
- There is proof that you were convicted of first or second-degree murder or that you accepted a plea offer in place of trial
- You would not have been convicted for first or second-degree murder under the provisions of the new California murder rule as outlined in SB 1437.
California's Old Felony Murder Rule
The old California felony murder rule did not consider whether a defendant intended to kill or not. A person would face murder charges even if they acted without malice aforethought. The old law convicted a person of felony murder simply because a victim died during the commissioning of a felony, even if it is evident that:
- The defendant had no intention to kill the victim,
- The defendant was not even aware that a homicide occurred, or
- The defendant killed the victim by accident.
The old law was only interested in proving that the defendant committed a felony, which in turn led to the loss of life.
Understanding California's New Felony Murder Law
Unlike the old law, the new California felony murder law seeks a greater presence of an intention to kill by the defendant.
For a person to face first-degree or second-degree murder conviction, a person must act with malice and have the intention to kill. Malice may also mean that provocation took place, leading to the killing and that the killing portrays that the killer had a malignant heart and indifference to the value of human life.
Under felony, a defendant is convicted of murder if they commit or make an attempt to commit a dangerous act that in turn, leads to the loss of human life. Felony murder does not require a prosecutor to prove that a defendant committed the crime with malice. Instead, the law presumes malice since the defendant carried out a felonious act that led to the death of the victim.
Felony murder would qualify as a first-degree if the act leading to death included kidnapping, mayhem, arson, carjacking, burglary, or any other act of torture.
Felony murder would qualify as a second-degree if any other act other than acts of torture led to the death of the victim.
The new murder laws outline that individuals are convicted of murder if they kill a victim. Individuals are also convicted if they knew about the intention of another person to kill, and they assisted them in killing the victim.
Under the natural & probable rule, a person is guilty of second-degree murder if they intended to perpetrate a different kind of crime that could foreseeably result in loss of life and the person they assisted did kill. To be charged as guilty, the crime a person aided to perform must be a felony and not a misdemeanor.
The SB 1437 helps to lighten prior convictions under felony murder and murders under natural & probable consequences. The bill argues that an individual who is not the actual killer cannot be deemed to have acted in malice simply because they took part in a crime.
Penalties for Felony Murder as Outlined by SB1437
The applicable penalties depend on the type of felony murder: first-degree and second-degree murder. There are different consequences for the two degrees of murder. For first-degree murder, the defendant may face twenty-five (25) years in prison. They may also serve a life sentence in a California state prison without the possibility for parole. The defendant may also face a death penalty.
A second-degree murder refers to a felony murder that does not meet the qualifications for first-degree felony murder. For a second-degree felony murder, a defendant may serve up to fifteen (15) years in California state prison.
Appealing a Conviction/ Sentence under SB 1437
To be able to seek an appeal for prior sentencing, SB 1437 prescribes two requirements: a petition and a resentencing hearing.
Serving a Petition
SB 1437 requires a petitioner to file a petition with the same agency that had prosecuted them in the prior case, the same court that had sentenced the petitioner, and the same attorney that had represented the petitioner. A petition is served on the court where the initial conviction took place. If the judge that convicted or sentenced the defendant is no longer there, the presiding judge appoints another judge to handle the petition. While filing a petition, it is necessary to include a declaration by the defendant stating that they are eligible for resentencing under Senate Bill 1437 based on the requirements outlined in the bill as follows:
- The petition should capture the case number of the defendant as well as the year when they were convicted.
- In the petition, the defendant should point out if they request for an appointment of an attorney.
- It is crucial to include all the necessary information while serving a petition. If some of the required information is missing, the court may be unable to make a ruling on the appeal. Incomplete information may result in denial of the application by the courts on the grounds of inadequate information.
The good thing is that if a petition is denied for lack of vital information, the defendant can make a re-petition once all the required data is available.
Ineligibility for Petition
According to SB 1437, you can face a conviction for first-degree murder and fail to qualify for the petition if the prosecutor can prove that:
- You were the one who killed the victim
- You did not kill the victim, but you had the intention to kill them by helping the actual killer in executing the murder
- You were a leading participant in the killing, and you acted with irresponsible and reckless indifference to human life
- The victim killed was a peace officer involved in the performance of their duties at the time of their death.
Procedures for Petition Hearing
After a defendant serves a petition, the prosecutor files and serves a reply to the petition within a period not exceeding sixty (60) days - upon receiving a response to the petition from the prosecutor, the defendant should reply within 30 days. If either the prosecutor or the defendant establishes a reasonable cause, the court may extend the response periods.
The judge then issues an order to show cause. After this order, the court holds a hearing within sixty (60) days. It is during this hearing that the court determines whether to vacate the murder conviction or to resentence the defendant.
The prosecution and the defendant may forfeit the hearing and assume eligibility of the defendant to vacate a conviction. This may also happen if a jury or court establishes that the defendant did not majorly participate in the murder, or that they did not act in a reckless manner depicting indifference to human life.
If the case proceeds to court, the prosecutor has to prove that the defendant does not qualify for murder conviction vacation or resentencing. If the prosecutor is unable to authenticate the ineligibility of the defendant, the defendant's conviction may be vacated, and they may also receive a resentencing. While defending their allegations, the defendant and the principal may rely on evidence of the prior case or present new evidence.
During the hearing, if the defendant is eligible for relief but is it evident that they received a general murder charge that did not address the target offense, the conviction must first be redesigned for resentencing.
In the case of resentencing, the judge acknowledges the time served by the defendant and gives them credit for that time. The judge may also order parole supervision not exceeding three (3) years after the sentence.
How Can I Know If I Qualify for Petition?
It is not easy to tell if you are eligible to file a petition. There are many details and murder scenarios to be evaluated to determine eligibility for a petition. It is prudent to contact an attorney with a deep understanding of criminal law to assist you.
My Felony Murder Case was in Progress Before SB 1137 Took Effect
The new California felony murder rule is applicable even for cases that were in progress before the rule took effect on in September 2018. The new laws seeking to reduce felony murder punishment apply to all criminal cases that had not been finalized when the law took effect.
The Role of an Attorney in the Petition to Vacate Murder Conviction
There are several reasons why you should not go in it alone when petitioning the court to vacate your murder conviction:
The Law is Intricate
The law is complex and contains many facets that may be hard to understand. Especially when facing criminal charges, it is challenging to get off the hook and prove that you deserve a resentencing. Without an attorney, it may even be challenging to secure the initial petition. An attorney understands the legal world and can help you maneuver your way to freedom. Attorneys handle numerous cases daily, and this, in turn, arms them with vast experience. You can be sure that a competent attorney has dealt with multiple petitions to vacate murder before and yours will not be the first.
The burden of facing a murder conviction is stressful enough. With such a burden on your shoulders, you may not be able to argue your case and prove that you deserve a resentence. An attorney takes the responsibility off you and negotiates the best outcome.
While seeking a petition, a petitioner is required to provide certain information such as the case number among other details. Failure to provide the necessary details for the previous case may lead to denial of the petition. An attorney will assist you in compiling and presenting all the essential facts and procedures surrounding your previous case. By helping you gather all the required information, an attorney increases your chance for a successful petition and resentencing.
The attorney will also help prove certain aspects of your conviction, such as the fact that you were convicted of felony murder.
Facing the Prosecutor
If your case proceeds to a resentencing hearing, the prosecutor will have one objective; to prove that you do not qualify for resentencing. It may be hard to prove that you deserve a resentencing when you are arguing with a prosecutor who is just interested in showing that you are guilty. It would be wise to have an attorney who can face the prosecutor on your behalf. An attorney can easily convince the jury to have your sentence reduced.
Challenging the Evidence
During a resentencing hearing, both the defendant and the prosecutor are free to present evidence used in the previous case as well as any new evidence they may have gathered. An attorney comes in handy when gathering fresh evidence or restating the existing evidence to prove that you deserve a second chance. An attorney will also help challenge the evidence presented by the attorney against you.
If you do not possess proper legal training, it would be hard to understand if the evidence against you is viable. In case a witness is available, you may not be able to tell if their statement contradicts a previous statement. While evaluating evidence, you would also have to determine whether the relevant crime lab properly handled the evidence. Attorneys can successfully challenge any evidence against and have your conviction reviewed.
Contact a Petition to Vacate Murder Conviction Attorney Near Me
If you or your loved one wants their murder conviction vacated, we invite you to contact our Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney. Under SB 1437 and Penal Code 1170.95, the law gives second chances to felony murder defendants. Our attorneys offer confidential consultations to help you know whether you qualify to file a petition under these laws. Whether you were sentenced before the new murder law was effective, our experienced attorneys understand both the new and old murder laws to help you seek for a resentencing or entire vacation of your murder conviction. Call us today at 714-831-1858!