Written by Mini Racker and originally published by the LA Times here.
Activists gathered at the state Capitol on Tuesday to demand that lawmakers change California’s felony murder law, which allows defendants to be convicted of first-degree murder if a victim dies during the commission of a felony, even if the defendant was an accomplice or did not intend to kill.
A measure being considered by lawmakers, Senate Bill 1437, would change who could be sentenced for felony murder and give inmates imprisoned under the rule a chance at re-sentencing.
Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), the author of the bill, criticized California’s felony murder rule as irrational.
“You can literally be charged with murder and convicted of murder and then sentenced for life without committing murder and without even being present at the time of the crime,” Skinner said.
Robert Garcia, who attended the event in Sacramento, was imprisoned for more than two decades for felony murder after participating in a deadly robbery when he was 16. Garcia said he was not armed and didn’t know that another person involved in the robbery had brought a knife used in the fatal attack.
“It blew me away, because the intention was just to get some money,” Garcia said. “We were kids. We just wanted some money. So even though that was a bad act in itself, that was all we wanted.”
The teenagers who participated in the robbery with Garcia, including one 14-year-old, were also charged with first-degree murder. Critics of the felony murder rule said the average accomplice sentenced under the rule is 20 years old.
More than 50 civil rights groups have signed on to support SB 1437. Law enforcement groups, however, argue that the felony murder rule makes criminals think twice about committing serious crimes and incentivizes them to protect lives.
The bill is one of hundreds left for lawmakers to consider before they adjourn for the year on Aug. 31.
Photo credit: Adam Foss of Prosecutor Impact & Re:store Justice boardmember speaks as family members of those sentenced under the felony murder rule hold images of loved ones. (Mini Racker / Los Angeles Times)
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