The two possible outcomes of a murder conviction include the death penalty and life imprisonment. One of the ways to avoid the severity of these outcomes is by petitioning to vacate your murder conviction. Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm has a clientele comprising of individuals from Vista, CA, and North County seeking legal help on various criminal cases. We can help you file the petition to vacate your particular murder conviction, as discussed in this guide.

What are the California Laws on Murder?

Murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a fetus or human being driven by malice aforethought under Penal Code 187. Malice aforethought refers to having disregard for other people's lives. In this case, you may face murder charges (first or second degree) for doing an act with a high probability of resulting in death.

First-degree murder is done in a willful, premeditated, and deliberate way and accomplished using means such as lying in wait, torture, or poison. All other murder forms qualify as second-degree. A prison sentence for first-degree murder ranges from 25 years to life while that of second-degree murder ranges from 15 years to life.

Understanding California’s Felony Murder Rule

The felony murder rule seeks to impose murder liability to individuals accused of killing someone else while commissioning a dangerous felony. With this law, you may be subject to a murder charge even if the death was unforeseeable. However, the prosecution will have to establish a link between the felony you committed and the time and location of the murder crime.

The State of California is governed by various laws regarding the types of murder convictions a defendant can face. While these laws may seem complicated, most of them are regularly reviewed to change how people are convicted of murder in California. You may face a conviction for murder even if you did not intend to kill someone or did not personally kill someone. Your hope to beat a murder charge lies in the legal advice and representation you seek.

Can These Laws Allow You to File a Petition to Vacate Your Murder Conviction?

Senate Bill 1437, enacted by the California Legislature, is a new law seeking to target murder conviction cases. Since this law was passed, it applied to both ongoing and future murder cases in trial and appeal courts. SB 1437 offers defendants facing murder conviction a means to petition to overturn their convictions. With this new law, the legal basis for you being convicted of a murder crime will be limited.

How to Know if SB 1437 Can be Applied on Your Murder Conviction

Judges across California are currently considering the new changes to the laws on murder convictions introduced by Senate Bill 1437. In this case, you may find it complicated to know if this new law affects your murder conviction. Consider contacting your criminal lawyer and seek legal advice on this matter. Your attorney can review your case and determine whether you are eligible to file a petition for vacating a conviction for a murder crime.

Understanding the Changes to the California Murder Laws

It would be best if you understood the two laws that Senate Bill 1437 changed when it was enacted. These laws applied to the elements of a murder crime known as felony murder and natural and probable consequences. SB 1437 seeks to limit murder convictions based on felony murder and natural and probable consequences. With this limitation, you will not be convicted for acting with malice if you only participated in a murder crime rather than killing someone.

Under SB 1437, a judge may convict you of first-degree murder if the prosecution proves (beyond a reasonable doubt) that:

  • You were the actual killer, or you aided, induced, abetted, solicited, counseled, assisted or requested the real killer to commit murder or to kill someone
  • The murder victim was identified as a peace officer performing his/her assigned duties
  • Though you were not the actual killer, you were a significant participant in the felony offense with your actions having reckless indifference to human life

What Can Disqualify You from Vacating Your Murder Conviction?

Senate Bill 1437 is strict on the categories of defendants who can file a petition to have their murder convictions vacated. If your criminal conviction was as a result of the prosecutor proving you were the actual perpetrator of the murder crime, you might not qualify for this type of relief. A California judge will also deny your petition if the murder victim was a police or peace officer carrying out his/her assigned duty. Being the primary participant in a murder crime or endangering human life by acting reckless can also make you ineligible for the SB 1437 relief.

Will a Life Imprisonment Sentence Without Parole Make You Ineligible?

Serving a life sentence without parole means that you will be imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole. The laws regarding the murder crime you committed may contribute to your sentencing. A California judge may also give you this sentence when convicted for rape (with prior rape convictions), felony murder or first-degree murder. The three options you may explore when facing life imprisonment without parole are as follows:

  • Filing a writ of habeas corpus petition
  • Asking the Governor of California to grant you a commutation
  • Appealing at a relevant appellate court
  • Filing a petition to have your murder conviction overturned

A writ of habeas corpus petition, abbreviated as HCP, gives you the chance to challenge your imprisonment terms. A commutation, on the other hand, is clemency or pardon directed to an honorable official such as the Governor to ask for a sentence reduction. With an appeal, you will be requesting a higher court to review the findings of a much lower court carefully. Filing a petition to have the murder conviction overturned can benefit you when denied parole in your life sentence provided you did not intend to endanger someone else's life.

How Is Criminal Liability a Barrier to Filing a Petition to Vacate a Murder Conviction?

The prosecution's work in a murder trial mainly revolves in imposing criminal liability to the defendant. Expect the prosecutor to prove this factor by introducing new pieces of evidence at different stages of your trial. The old California felony murder law made it possible for individuals to face murder conviction for accidental killings. You could be charged for committing this felony or aiding someone else in committing this felony.

Criminal liability goes beyond aiding a person commit a crime or committing the crime by yourself. The prosecution has to prove in detail your intent to commit murder. You will be held criminally liable for the crime if there is proof you had wanton disregard to someone else's life. Being criminally liable for a murder crime can prevent you from filing a petition for your murder conviction to be vacated.

Petitioning to Have Your Conviction of a Murder Crime Vacated: The Process

Senate Bill 1437 officially allowed individuals to file a petition requesting to have their convictions of murder crimes vacated on January 1, 2019. Penal Code 1170.95 is the new statute describing the process of petitioning to have your sentence vacated in California. Under this law, there is no deadline for having the petition filed. You can also file the petition from the local court in which you were convicted of a murder crime provided that you meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • The criminal charges against you made the District Attorney argue a theory of guilt based on natural and probable consequences or felony murder
  • Your conviction relied on either a court trial or plea bargain of first or second-degree murder
  • You could not face a conviction for murder if prosecuted now due to the changes brought by Senate Bill

Upon filing the petition in a local court, your attorney should serve its copies to the DA. The petition should comprise a statement of whether you want a counsel appointed and the declaration on whether you meet the requirements. Other details included in the petition are your court case number and the specific year you were convicted. A court may accept the petition once you showed your eligibility for filing the petition.

Once the court accepts your petition, the DA should file a response giving your criminal attorney a chance to reply. The next steps of this process involve the court deciding whether a hearing is necessary for your case. They also include the DA challenging your petition by proving (beyond a reasonable doubt) that you do not qualify for the relief. Both parties (your lawyer and the DA) may argue their stand by relying on your case record or introducing evidence at the proceedings.

The court may rule in your favor by vacating your murder conviction and the associated enhancements if the DA cannot prove why you do not qualify for the relief. In this case, you may expect to have your sentence reduced or be resentenced for the remaining counts. Your new sentence will be shorter than the previous one. You may receive credit for the specific time served by being granted a three-year parole once you complete your sentence.

Your Sixth Amendment Rights and the SB 1437 Relief

If you are a defendant is a previously completed murder trial, your Sixth Amendment rights remain the same whether you choose to appeal or face imprisonment. Under the Sixth Amendment rights, criminal defendants have the right to fair public trials, speedy trials, and a lawyer of their choosing. Since seeking an SB 1437 relief will involve the court process, you will still be entitled to these rights. You can exercise them by having a criminal attorney handle the petition and offer you the legal representation you need.

Does SB 1437 Allow You to Petition for a Sentence Reduction?

You can have your sentence for a conviction for murder reduced under Senate Bill 1437. The process for the sentence reduction begins with you filing a petition with the sentencing court or prosecution agency that handled your murder case. In your petition, you must demonstrate your eligibility for the sentence reduction. Other eligibility requirements for a sentence reduction are similar to those for having your murder conviction overturned.

You will be scheduled for a resentencing hearing after proving your eligibility. While your lawyer argues the reasons you deserve the reduction, the prosecution should prove (beyond a reasonable doubt) your ineligibility to the relief. A California judge will have any allegations or enhancements on your murder conviction overturned if the prosecution fails to meet the burden of proof. Expect also to be resentenced for your criminal charge.

Is Vacating a Conviction for a Murder Crime the Same as Vacating a Criminal Judgement?

Since the California Governor signed Assembly Bill 2867 into law, defendants across California have been seeking relief for their criminal conviction. With a motion to vacate your criminal judgment, you will be requesting a judge to overrule your previous order or judgment. You can have a criminal judgment overruled if only you can prove there was a prejudicial error in your case. According to AB 2867, your case must have been affected by the prejudicial error resulting in your wrongful conviction.

A motion to vacate a criminal conviction profoundly differs from a petition to vacate a murder crime. A petition is usually an application, in written form, used in initiating a court proceeding. Filing a motion, on the other hand, can help you seek a ruling or an order in your pending case.  You cannot file an AB 2867 motion when attempting to overturn a murder conviction in the same way you cannot file an SB 1437 petition to vacate a criminal conviction.

A Governor's Pardon Vs. an SB 1437 Relief

The deadline for applying for a Governor’s pardon in California is usually seven to ten years from the date you completed probation or parole for your criminal conviction. You can only receive this kind of honor if you underwent rehabilitation for the particular crime you committed. With the pardon, most of the punitive measures you faced will be relieved. The Governor’s pardon will not change your criminal history since your record will still indicate your pardoned criminal conviction.

Unlike a governor’s pardon, a petition to vacate a conviction for murder specifically targets eligible individuals convicted of murder. You do not need to complete probation or parole for you to file this petition. Instead of addressing the request to the Governor’s office, you will have your petition filed in the local court in which you were prosecuted. However, both relief types require you to have a criminal lawyer to help you with the legal work involved in the filing processes.

Can You Vacate/Overturn a Murder Conviction that is Still on Appeal or is No Longer on Appeal

The appeal process for a conviction for a murder crime begins with filing the appeal in California’s Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal operates in six judicial districts to serve residents of the state. Through your attorney’s assistance, consider filing an appeal in the district with jurisdiction over the county court in which you were convicted.

Instead of deciding "questions of fact," the Court of Appeal usually considers "questions of law." It the work of a trial court to decide the questions of fact: they include witness credibility, innocence, and guilt. The appellate court will focus on determining what your sentence should have been by evaluating whether the evidence was excluded or appropriately admitted. Your appeal will also be handled based on whether the judge sentenced you unfairly or whether the council acted incompetently/unethically.

Is it Possible to Vacate an Appealed Murder Conviction?

Your goal is to challenge the verdict of a trial court on your case when appealing a conviction for a crime of murder. Since your case will still be pending in the Supreme Court of California, you can file a petition to have it reviewed. Your murder conviction is subject to a penalty reduction under a rule derived from a 1965 case known as "In re Estrada."

The "In re Estrada" does not apply to Senate Bill 1437 in various ways. SB 1437 targets individuals who have already faced a murder conviction and are willing to have the convictions vacated. Once you appeal your murder conviction, your criminal case will not have been finalized. SB 1437 focuses on murder convictions that have already been concluded.

The Effect of SB 1437 on Murder Convictions that are No Longer on Appeal

Once your murder conviction is no longer on appeal (already final), you should immediately discuss your options regarding SB 1437 with your attorney. Having your criminal case handled in this manner can help you determine whether you have the chance to petition the conviction. Depending on your situation, your lawyer can assist in filing a petition with a court in California.

Hire a Criminal Law Firm Near Me

If you are looking to have a court overturn your murder conviction, filing a petition to vacate the conviction may be a good idea. The outcomes of the petition can be more favorable if you involve a reputable criminal lawyer in the process. Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm can be your law firm of choice if you are seeking legal help on a criminal case in Vista, CA, and North County. Call our Vista criminal attorney at 760-691-1551 for expert consultation on your criminal case.