As explained by renowed criminal appeal lawyers, Senate Bill 300 (Reg. Sess. 2021-2022), also referred to as the Sentencing Reform Act of 2021, is new legislation recently introduced to the Senate which, if passed and signed into law by the governor, would do away with California’s current mandatory special circumstance felony murder rule. Instead, judges would be afforded discretion to sentence defendants in accordance with their involvement in a crime and in considering the interests of justice.
In this article, California criminal appeals attorney Matthew Barhoma, founder of Power Trial Lawyers, provides information on this process, including:
- What is Senate Bill 300?
- How SB 300 Could Apply to Current Inmates
- The Impact of SB 300
- How an Appeals Lawyer Can Help
Like its predecessor Senate Bill 1437, Senate Bill 300 (“SB 300”) aims to reform felony murder law in California but this time by doing away with mandated sentencing for special circumstances felony murder, which, as the law currently stands, requires a defendant in a felony murder case to be sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole even where they did not kill or act with the intent to kill. The current law does not afford judges any discretion in these special circumstance cases and mandates these harsh sentences be imposed regardless of a defendant’s role.
The senators responsible for drafting the SB 300 note they crafted the Bill due to the need for reform of the special circumstance law in California, as it is “one of the most expansive in the nation” and “does not adequately limit the number of people a prosecutor can charge with death or life without the possibility of parole.” Sen. Bill 300 (Reg. Sess. 2021-2022), § 1, subd. (g).
Specifically, SB 300 proposes a change to Penal Code section 190.2, subdivision (d), permitting for judicial sentencing discretion for those defendants in felony murder cases who are not the killer and did not act with the intent to kill. Rather, under SB 300, such individuals could instead be eligible to receive an indeterminate term of 25 years to life in state prison, allowing them an opportunity to someday be paroled, if appropriate. At the sentencing phase, mitigating information such as a defendant’s role in the crime, his or her age, maturity, background, mental state, and related factors could all be considered by a judge when determining what sentence would be fitting.
While this Bill is in the preliminary stages, if it is approved by both the Senate and Assembly and signed into law by the governor, it would become law.
To see if Senate Bill 300 may impact you or your loved one’s case, contact the criminal post-conviction attorneys at Power Trial Lawyers for an assessment today.How SB 300 Could Apply to Current Inmates
Senate Bill 300 unambiguously allows for resentencing for inmates previously sentenced under the old law in a manner very similar to that required by petitioners submitting SB 1437 petitions for relief.
SB 300 would add section 1170.97 to the Penal Code, which would provide the following steps for applying for resentencing for inmates who were not the actual killer and did not act with intent to kill but were sentenced under section 190.2, subdivision (a)(17) (i.e., the special circumstance felony murder rule):
- A defendant should petition the sentencing court and serve upon the prosecuting District Attorney and trial defense counsel a petition to have the special circumstance finding(s) vacated and to have the sentence recalled. The petition should include a declaration by the petitioner of eligibility for relief, the year of conviction, the case number, and whether appointment of counsel is being requested.
- The State will then have 60 days to respond to the petition and a petitioner will have 30 days to file a reply briefing. If a prima facie showing of entitlement to relief has been made by the petitioner, the judge must issue an order to show cause.
- Within 60 days of the order to show cause, the court must hold a hearing to determine the petitioner’s eligibility for relief. The burden is on the prosecution at this hearing to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the petitioner is ineligible for resentencing.
- If the State cannot meet their burden, the special circumstance finding(s) must be vacated and the petitioner will be resentenced on the remaining charges.
Research has shown that young, black and brown offenders, many of whom have no prior criminal record, are disproportionately sentenced under the current special circumstance felony murder rule. Due to the retroactive application of SB 300, many young men and women will become eligible for resentencing, giving them a chance to potentially be paroled, where before they would have had no such opportunity. This is critical for the inmates and families impacted by the special circumstance felony murder rule and will undoubtedly provide a previously unrealized opportunity for families and loved ones to one day be reunited.How an Appeals Lawyer Can Help
The journey from a bill to a law can be a long and somewhat complex one. Once a Senate Bill is introduced to the Senate, it must be passed by the Senate, move to the Assembly and be passed by that faction of the legislature as well. If both houses pass the SB 300, it will go to the governor – currently Governor Newsom – to be signed. The governor may or may not sign it. If he does, it will become law.
Appeals attorney Matthew Barhoma is closely monitoring the development of Senate Bill 300 as it passes through the Senate and Assembly and eventually reaches the governor. If passed and signed into law, Power Trial Lawyers will be fully prepared to gather the relevant mitigating information and submit the necessary petitions for resentencing immediately upon the effective date of the changes to law. Power Trial Lawyers has had documented track record of success in achieving resentencing under Senate Bill 1437, which is related to the instant Bill, making the firm uniquely qualified to pursue relief under SB 300.
If you believe the changes which may be implemented by Senate Bill 300 impact your case or the case of someone you love, contact Power Trial Lawyers today to have your case assessed. You need a California criminal appeals lawyer on your side.