Severe legal penalties accompany a murder conviction under California law. A concoction for first or second-degree murder could attract life imprisonment or the death sentence depending on the circumstances. However, there are instances under which you do not have to deal with these harsh consequences. California law allows the court to remove the conviction from your record by filing a petition to vacate the murder conviction. When the court vacates your conviction, you have the opportunity to enter a different plea resulting in a new and fair trial.

Unfortunately, the California laws on post-conviction matters are complicated, and the process of having your conviction vacated could be intricate. Therefore, seeking legal insight to navigate the situation is critical. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we have extensive knowledge of California law and all the changes that it has undergone over the years. Our skilled attorneys will provide the legal guidance and representation you need to file a successful petition under Senate Bill 1437 in Riverside, CA.

Vacating a Judgment in California

Under California Penal Code 1018, you have a chance to request the removal of a judgment order from your criminal record. Commonly known as the motion to withdraw a plea, PC will be available to you if:

  • You entered a guilty or no contest plea in your case
  • You have not been sentenced for your crimes
  • You have legal grounds to withdraw your plea

If you show good cause, the court will allow you to replace your guilty plea with a not guilty plea. Even when you are already serving time in jail or prison, you may be eligible to file a successful petition under this statute. Some of the legal grounds that justify a petition to vacate a judgment include:

  • Failure to understand the consequences of a plea owing to the language barrier
  • Lawyer incompetence or lack of proper legal guidance
  • Agreeing to enter a plea without the presence or advice of an attorney
  • You were threatened or coerced into a plea deal
  • You did not know of the full consequences before you entered the plea

California Senate Bill 1437

California’s legislature passed and signed Senate Bill 1437. Under California PC 1170.95, this bill changed laws on felony murder. California law defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with a malice afterthought. Under PC 187, malice afterthought is the disregard for human life which exceeds ordinary negligence.

The murder rule imposes liability for murder to individuals facing accusations of killing another person while engaging in a felonious act. Under the law, you can face criminal charges and a conviction even when you did not foresee the killing. However, the prosecutor must link your felony with the location and time of the killing. California has different statutes regarding the category of murder conviction you face.

Under the new laws, you have the opportunity to petition the court to have your murder conviction reduced to a lesser offense. If you meet the eligibility criteria, the court can vacate your conviction even when you were serving a prison sentence for your conviction. The motive behind SB 1437 is to have your sentence and liability for a crime match your actions. Additionally, reducing the crowding in California jails has prompted a reduction of sentences that defendants need to serve for murder.

Criminal Liability for Felony Murder Before SB 1437

Previously under Penal Code 189, you could face murder charges if you engaged in a dangerous activity resulting in another person's death. Under the old felony murder laws, the court could find you guilty of the crime even if:

  • You did not know that your actions caused the death
  • The death was accidental
  • You did not intend to kill the alleged victim

The only elements that were necessary to secure a conviction before the signing of SB 1437 were:

  • You committed a felony or aided another person to commit a felony offense
  • Another person died from these acts

Whether or not the victim’s death was accidental or intentional did not affect the outcome of your case.

Penalties that Accompany Felony Murder under SB 1437

Even after the signing of Senate Bill 24137, felony murder is charged under first or second degree. Some factors that determine the degree of murder you are charged with are the nature of the underlying felony offense and other facts of your case. First and second-degree murder convictions attract different penalties.

You will face criminal charges and a conviction for first-degree homicide when you cause death to another person during the commission of any of the following offenses.

  • Rape
  • Arson
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Carjacking
  • Torture
  • Lewd acts with a minor
  • Mayhem

Additionally, you could face charges for first-degree murder if you kill another person by lying in wait or using an explosive to cause their death. A conviction for felony murder is first degree is punishable by a prison sentence of twenty-five years, life imprisonment without parole, or capital punishment.

Any other form of murder that does not qualify as the first degree is charged under the second and is punishable by up to fifteen years in prison. If you face charges for felony murder, you can improve your chances of resentencing by proving that you were not an active player in the killing.

Requirements to File a Petition for SB 1437 Relief

You can file for resentencing if you serve a sentence following a felony murder conviction. Not all defendants qualify to file a successful petition to vacate a murder conviction. You must meet the following eligibility criteria before you file the petition:

  • Your conviction resulted from liability under the felony murder rule
  • Your conviction was founded on the probable and natural consequence theory (NPC). Death is a natural consequence of your actions if the outcome of the act is something that a reasonable person would avoid.

You are liable for murder under the NPC theory if:

  • You aided a targeted crime
  • While committing the felony, your co-participant killed another person
  • The murder was a probable or natural consequence of your actions

In California, you can only petition the court to vacate your conviction if you were an accessory to collaborator to the murder. A collaborator, in this case, is a person who abets another to commit a crime.

If the court finds you guilty under PC 187 based on probable and natural consequences, you can petition the court to vacate the conviction on the following conditions:

  • Your first or second-degree murder conviction resulted from a trial where you accepted a plea deal or guilty
  • The law allowed the prosecution to charge you under the felony murder rule
  • You would not have been found guilty after the enactment of Senate Bill 1437

Factors that make you Ineligible for SB 1437 Relief

Although Senate Bill 1437 provides relief for defendants convicted of murder in California, you are not entitled to the relief under the following circumstances:

  • You committed the murder
  • You killed a law enforcement officer while they performed their official duty.
  • You abetted or aided the real murderer intending to kill
  • You acted with disregard for the safety of the alleged victim and actively participated in the murder

Difference between a Motion to Vacate your Judgment and the Petition to Vacate a Conviction

Under Assembly Bill 2867, a motion to vacate a judgment allows you to request the court to overturn a past ruling. Assembly Bill 287 was enacted to help relieve defendants facing a lengthy criminal sentence. After a conviction under PC 187, the court can withdraw the verdict when there is enough evidence to prove that an error occurred in the judgment. Under SB 2867, an error is any factor that distorts the capability of a defendant to be charged fairly for their criminal violations.

AB 2867 is an amendment of PC 1473.7. Unlike a petition, a motion is an oral or written application presented before the court to seek a verdict in pending criminal cases. On the other hand, a petition is a request that initiates a proceeding. Therefore, petitioning the court to vacate a murder conviction will require you to present a petition whose success will provide some relief from your conviction.

The Procedure of Filing a Petition Under Senate Bill 1437

There are two primary steps involved in your petition to vacate a murder conviction:

The Petition

You can seek to have the court vacate your conviction by filing a petition with the court where you were sentenced, the lawyer who represented you in the case, and the prosecuting agency. Your petition must include the following information:

  • A declaration that you are eligible for the court's consideration under SB 1437
  • The year you were convicted and your case number. Since many defendants share names, indicating your case number allows the court to track your conviction records easily and speed up the process.
  • Whether or not you need the court to appoint legal counsel. Petitioning the court under SB 1437 is complicated. Therefore, seeking legal guidance is essential. If you cannot hire an attorney for your case, the court can appoint one for you.

The court cannot rule on the petition if the necessary information is not present in your petition. However, even when you suffer a petition denial for lack of sufficient information to accompany the petition, you can refile it when the information is available.

When the prosecuting agency receives your petition, they must file it and give a response within thirty days.  You have up to thirty days to react to the prosecution’s response to your SB 1437 petition. If you can demonstrate a good cause, the court could extend the time you need to respond.

The court holds a hearing within sixty days of the court order. The main aim of this hearing is to determine if you are a suitable candidate for resentencing or vacating your conviction. You can convince the prosecution to specify your eligibility on the motion and avoid the hearing.

The Hearing

If you prove that you are eligible to file a claim under SB 1437 and fail to enter an agreement with the prosecution, you must attend the hearing. During the hearing for resentencing, the burden of proof lies on the prosecution. In criminal law, the burden of proof is the obligation of one party to prove their claims against another. The court expects the prosecution to accept or reject your motion.

The standards around the burden of proof include a reasonable indication, probable cause, reasonable suspicion, and beyond a reasonable doubt. Most of these standards will only apply to criminal convictions. In a petition to vacate your homicide conviction, the prosecution only needs to prove why the court should not resentence you or vacate your conviction. If the prosecutor fails to meet this standard:

  • The court will annul any modifications to your sentence.
  • The judge makes the final judgment on your sentence
  • The court will order that you undergo parole supervision for up to three years

 Additional Legal Options to Modify a Murder Sentence

In California, petitioning the court to vacate your murder conviction is a new way to modify your murder sentence. There are other legal options that you can explore, including:

Seeking a Sentence Reduction

In addition to having your murder conviction vacated, Senate Bill 1437 allows you to have your sentence reduced. Murder is one of the most severe offenses for which you can be convicted in California, and the penalties for the offense are life-changing. You can have a sentence reduction by petitioning the prosecuting agency or court. The petition to reduce your sentence includes a declaration to show your suitability for the reduction. The eligibility criterion for a murder sentence reduction is similar to the one for the vacation of your conviction.

After confirmation of your eligibility, the court will hold a hearing. At your murder sentence reduction hearing, the role of the prosecution is to show that you do not deserve to have a sentence reduction. If the prosecution does not prove that reducing your sentence is not in the interests of justice, the court may agree to reduce the sentence.

Seek a Governor’s Pardon

A governor’s pardon is a post-conviction relief that the government grants to individuals who have undergone rehabilitation following a criminal conviction. The governor’s pardon relieves you from most disabilities associated with your murder conviction. After serving your sentence for a murder conviction, you must wait between seven to ten years before filing for a governor’s pardon.

The main difference between vacating a murder conviction and the governor’s pardon is removing the sentence from your record. When the court vacates your conviction, the conviction will no longer count as a prior during future sentencing. However, with a governor’s pardon, the conviction remains in your record and will count as a ‘prior.’ A governor will grant you a pardon if you have spent up to ten years since you completed your probation and have not engaged in serious criminal activity.

The process of seeking a governor’s pardon involves filing a petition with the governor’s office or through a certificate of rehabilitation. However, directly applying to the governor’s office is more effective.

Court Recall

The court can recall a murder conviction within 120 days of sentencing. For a court recall, you do not need to file a motion for resentencing. If the judge recalls your sentence, they can issue a new sentence that must not be harsher than the previous sentence. Before recalling your murder sentence, the judge could consider the following factors:

  • Your rehabilitation and disciplinary records
  • Your interest in seeking justice
  • Your risk of involvement in further criminal activity after completing your sentence

Appealing your Murder Sentence

Most murder convictions are made in lower state courts. The consequences of this conviction are severe and life-changing. Depending on the degree of murder for which you are convicted, you risk spending between fifteen years to life imprisonment or the death sentence. If you are dissatisfied with the court's judgment, you can appeal the case. In California, the process of appealing your case will not involve the presentation of new evidence in the case. An appeal is a way to seek a second opinion on the verdict.

The appeals court judges will examine your case's details and the judgment issued to determine any legal errors. After receiving your murder sentence, you have up to sixty days to file for an appeal. The process of appealing a criminal conviction is lengthy and complicated. Therefore, seeking legal guidance is vital.

Frequently Asked Questions on Petition to Vacate a Murder Conviction

Facing a conviction under the felony murder rule is devastating. You will want to understand all laws that would help you reduce the consequences of the murder conviction. The following are some commonly asked questions on the petition to vacate your murder conviction:

  • Can I vacate an appealed murder conviction?

The goal of your petition to vacate a murder conviction is to challenge the verdict given by the court on your case. When you file an appeal, your case will be pending in the supreme court. However, you can petition to have the case reviewed. However, filing a petition to vacate a conviction is reserved for individuals who have already faced a conviction.

  • Does Senate Bill 1437 allow you to have your sentence reduced?

Yes. The court can either vacate your murder conviction or reduce your sentence. The process of sentence reduction starts with the filing of the petition. Your petition must include the declaration of eligibility. Additionally, your lawyer must prove why you deserve to have the sentence reduced.

  • How does criminal liability affect your petition to vacate a murder conviction in California?

Criminal liability is a critical element that the prosecution must prove before the court finds you guilty of murder. When you petition the court to vacate the conviction, the prosecutor can introduce evidence to prove that you do not deserve the relief. Under SB 1437, you will only face a conviction if you intended to kill the alleged victim or had a malice afterthought. Under the old felony murder rule, you could face a conviction even when the murder was accidental.

  • If I am serving life imprisonment without parole, am I covered under Senate Bill 1437?

When the court sentences you to live without the possibility of parole, you are likely to spend the rest of your life behind bars. The court imposes a sentence based on different enhancements for your murder conviction. Regardless of the severity of this sentence, the enactment of SB 1437 allows you to petition for resentencing. In a successful petition, the court could reduce your sentence or modify it to give you a possibility of parole.

Do the Sixth Amendment Rights Apply when filing for relief under SB 1437?

You are a criminal defendant when you petition the court to vacate your murder conviction. Therefore, you are entitled to the Sixth Amendment Rights, which include the right to a fair trial and the right to seek legal counsel.

Find a Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

The consequences of a homicide conviction are severe. In addition to spending decades in prison, the conviction will follow you for the rest of your life. After serving your prison sentence, you may feel that your one one-time wrong decision has been forgotten. Unfortunately, lenders, landlords, employers and other people in society haven’t. If a person dies a background check on you and finds a murder conviction, they could use it against you.

In California, there are several ways through which you can put the issue behind you, including a petition to vacate the murder conviction. Vacating a murder conviction means the court will nullify the verdict and go back to trial to pursue a better outcome. Murder is a severe offense, and convincing the court to vacate your conviction under Penal Code 187 can be very complex.

Therefore, if you or a loved one seek to file a motion to vacate a murder conviction in California, it is vital to have the guidance of a skilled criminal lawyer by your side. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we will help you understand the process of filing this petition and guide you to ensure a favorable outcome. We serve clients seeking legal guidance throughout Riverside, CA. Call us today at 951-946-6366.