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Some Inmates May Be Released Under California’s Felony Murder Rule Change

Okabe & Haushalter Mar 30, 2019 Criminal Defense

As many as 800 inmates serving time in California’s prisons and penitentiaries may soon have their sentences revisited—and possibly undergo sentence reductions. When SB 1437 passed last fall, it brought significant modifications to the rule and allows for retroactive sentencing for those inmates affected by the change. The new rules went into effect on January 1.

Under California’s felony murder rule, an individual can be charged with murder in the first degree if a death, accidental or intentional, occurs during the commission of a violent felony crime, such as arson, robbery, burglary, rape or kidnapping. The old rule imputes and assumes malice on the part of the suspect, which is required in order to be adjudged guilty of first- or second-degree murder. Under the new rule, this is not the case. To achieve a conviction of first- or second-degree murder, prosecutors must now show that the suspect actually committed the homicide, or that the suspect assisted, requested, solicited, induced, commanded, counseled, abetted or aided the person who did.

Essentially, this change to the felony murder rule will allow for resentencing hearings for convicted felons who can prove that they did not directly participate in the murder itself. It will also allow for retroactive sentencing of those convicted. This means that a judge can give the inmate credit for time already served, based on the sentencing guidelines for the reduced charge. The conviction must also lie within a certain timeframe in the inmate’s appeals process. Some officials estimate that the number of inmates that will ultimately qualify for resentencing will be closer to 100, not 800.

At least one inmate has been released thanks to the rule change. Adnan Khan, who was sentenced to 25 years to life for first-degree murder, was credited with time served and released from custody this past week. When Khan was 19 and living on the streets, he and some other men devised a plan to rob the local pot dealer. During the course of the crime, another participant in the robbery stabbed the pot dealer to death. Khan had not even known that the man had a knife at the time. However, he received 25 years to life under the old felony murder rule because he was present. The man who actually committed the murder received 15 years to life—a lesser sentence than Khan, due to the man’s mental illness.

Facing a felony charge is a serious matter, and one that is best handled by experienced, caring, and nonjudgmental attorneys. At Okabe and Haushalter, our San Francisco criminal defense attorneys know that your freedom and liberty mean everything, which is why we aggressively work to defend you to the limits of the law. If you feel that you or a loved one may be eligible for resentencing under the felony murder rule change, we want to hear from you. Call us now at 310-430-7799 to set up your free confidential case evaluation and consultation.