California Senate Bill 1437 was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September 2018, marking a pivotal moment for justice reform and communities across the United States.
The bipartisan bill, co-authored by Senators Nancy Skinner (D) and Joel Anderson (R), will now amend California’s felony murder rule, a centuries-old legal doctrine that has held people automatically liable for first-degree murder if a death occurs during the commission of certain felonies, such as a robbery, even if an individual did not intend for a killing to occur or aid the killing in any way. A 2018 survey of California prisons concluded that the felony murder rule, prior to SB 1437, disproportionately impacted youth of color and women. As the law stood, the principles of justice and fairness in our justice system were a cold illusion – but with the passage of this legislation, we took a step forward.
Effective January 2019, SB 1437 will end the practice of sentencing a person who did not commit a homicide, or even have knowledge that a homicide occurred, similarly to someone who committed the homicide. Additionally, law enforcement will now have a powerful tool in their toolbox to help identify who was directly responsible for a murder. In a co-defendant felony murder case, co-defendants who were not the actual killers, who did not aid and abet the killing, or who did not act with reckless indifference to human life will now have an incentive to talk and tell the truth about what happened. SB 1437 creates more proportional and equitable sentencing in California, while serving public safety by holding those harm accountable for their actions.