Mid Friday afternoon, the LACW community gathered to listen to a presentation by Kate Chatfield, from our sister house in San Bruno, who is also a criminal defense attorney and author of SB 1437–also known as the BESTT Practices Act, a bill before the California Legislature that would reform the felony murder rule.
The felony murder rule comes from English common law. It has since been abolished in all common law jurisdictions, except the United States, for being unjust. Under the felony murder rule, a person can be criminally liable for first-degree murder even when he/she did not intend for a killing to occur or aid the killing in any way. A death may be accidental, unintentional, and unforeseen, but as long as it occurred during the course of, or flight from certain crimes, all participants – whether one performed the homicidal act or not, knew a co-participant was armed, or was even at the scene of the killing – is liable for first-degree murder.
The California Supreme Court has repeatedly urged that California abolish the felony murder rule. As far back as 1965 and repeated in 1983, in People v. Dillon, the California Supreme Court called the felony murder rule “barbaric.” However, the California Supreme Court does not have the authority to abolish it; only the Legislature has that power. The California high court asked the Legislature to make that change 35 years ago. The Legislature is now heeding that call. Earlier this year it passed in the State Senate and is now in the State Assembly.
In California, the felony murder rule disproportionately affects youth, people of color, and women. It has resulted in incredibly lengthy life sentences – draining taxpayer dollars – for people who never killed anyone, nor intended that a death occur.
SB 1437 will reform the felony murder rule and amend accomplice liability in certain types of second-degree murder. This act retains felony murder liability for the person who kills during the course of certain felonies. It would only abolish felony murder liability for an accomplice: a person who did not personally commit the homicidal act or intend that a homicide occur. This act would also limit judicially-created doctrines for second-degree murder liability.
We ask that you also look into this legislative bill and urge your state representative to support it. You can visit this LINK to learn more about it and sign on in support.