Senate Bill 775 and What It Means for California Inmates
In October 2021, Governor Newsom, California’s governor, signed Senate Bill 775 (SB 775) into law. SB 775 is the sister bill of SB 1437, which outlines how the California District Attorney prosecutes felony murder cases. Before the passage of SB 775, SB 1437 prevented prosecutors from charging someone with felony murder if they were “not the actual killer, did not act with the intent to kill, or was not a major participant in the underlying felony who acted with reckless indifference to human life" in homicide cases. However, SB 1437 left inmates convicted of attempted murder or manslaughter without any means to challenge their convictions. Even worse, SB 1437 left out individuals who were facing homicide convictions (first- or second-degree homicide) and opted to comply with prosecutors by taking a plea deal to a lesser offense. SB 775 modifies SB 1437, extending the possibility of relief to these inmates as well.
- What Is SB 775?
- Is SB 775 Retroactive?
- Who is Eligible for Relief Under SB 775?
- How Can You File Under SB 775?
- Does I Need a Lawyer to File Under SB 775?
SB 775 is a bill introduced by senator Josh Becker. The bill extends relief under SB 1437 to include those convicted of attempted murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine as well as those convicted of manslaughter when the prosecution proceeded on a theory of felony murder or murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine.
Under SB 1437, anyone convicted of murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine could petition the court for a resentencing hearing. However, SB 1437 still allowed for someone tangentially involved in a crime resulting in a killing but wasn’t aware or actually involved in the killing to be prosecuted for murder based on their participation in the underlying crime that led to the killing.
One of the major problems with SB 1437 was that it failed to consider the realities of what it means to face a California homicide charge. For example, defendants who participated in a felony but whose conduct did not result in the loss of life may plead guilty to a lesser offense rather than facing charges of felony murder at trial. However, by doing so, these defendants remove themselves from the class of people whom SB 1437 applies, effectively insulating their case from SB 1437 relief.
Thus, under the new law, anyone convicted of felony murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter but was not a “major participant who acted with reckless indifference to human life” can petition the court for a resentencing hearing. Contact a Criminal Appeals attorney to determine whether you or a loved one is eligible under this new law.
Yes, SB 775 is retroactive. It is both retroactive and forward looking. If you have previously been convicted of attempted murder, manslaughter, or homicide under the natural and probable consequences doctrine, you may be able to petition the court for resentencing. Contact a criminal appeals lawyer to review the likelihood of success of your case and in bringing a petition for resentencing.
More specifically, in passing this law, legislatures states, “This bill would expand the authorization to allow a person who was convicted of murder under any theory under which malice is imputed to a person based solely on that person’s participation in a crime, attempted murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine, or who was convicted of manslaughter when the prosecution was allowed to proceed on a theory of felony murder or murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine” (Emphasis added). From this verbiage, it is clear to see that legislatures intended for this to be a retroactive law.
However, the passage of SB 775 also illustrates California’s broad commitment to criminal justice reform. Thus, if SB 775 applies, these inmates can still pursue alternate forms of relief such as AB 2942 petitions and 1170(d)(1) petitions, arguing that these changes warrant reconsideration of their sentence.
It is strongly recommended that you contact an attorney timely if you feel you have a claim pursuant to SB 775.
As the law is currently phrased, SB 775 applies to anyone convicted of attempted murder, manslaughter, or murder where malice was imputed based solely on their participation in the underlying crime. Notably, SB 775 also allows those who entered a guilty plea for lesser charges of attempted murder, felony murder, or manslaughter to pursue a claim for relief. Previously, SB 1437 left out those individuals and left a gap in the law. SB 775 has closed that gap.
Much like SB 1437, the natural and probable consequences doctrine is a factor. Additionally, in looking to determine “reckless indifference,” the court will look to other existing case law to determine the merits of the petition.
If you think you have a claim, consider consulting with Power Trial Lawyers, a leading California Criminal Appeals law firm timely. A thorough review of the record is required to be successful. Generally, the court will have three various phases to each SB 775—(1) The Prima Facie phase, (2) the Order to Show Cause (OSC) phase, and if successful, the resentencing phase. You have to win at each phase to get SB 775 relief. As such, it is highly recommended you consult with a reputable appeals and post-conviction attorney in pursuing your SB 775 petition.
The first step to pursuing relief under SB 775 is to file a petition in the sentencing court. In an SB 775 petition, an inmate must lay out a prima facie case that they qualify for relief. This includes presenting the court with facts illustrating that the inmate falls within the scope of SB 775. For example, an inmate may show that their conviction was based on a finding that someone else was the person who killed or attempted to kill, but that the inmate was found vicariously liable for their co-defendant’s actions through the “natural and probable consequences” doctrine. Additionally, it is generally advisable to have a thorough understanding of the trial record and to use it to your advantage.
The court will then hold a hearing to determine whether the inmate established a prima facie—which is latin for “on its face”—case for relief. If the court determines that an inmate presents a prima facie case under SB 775, it will issue an Order to Show Cause (OSC). If the court does not issue an OSC, it must set forth its reasons for doing so. The OSC is an evidentiary phase where you may be able to call witnesses.
Once the court issues an OSC, it is then up to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the inmate is not entitled to a resentencing under SB 775. For example, the prosecution may argue that the inmate had the intent to kill or was a major participant in the underlying felony. The court will look to defense counsel to make arguments in favor of resentencing.
If the court determines that an inmate is eligible for resentencing under SB 775, the court will then schedule a resentencing hearing.
While SB 775 potentially applies to a very large number of California inmates, obtaining a resentencing hearing is far from a guarantee. Post-conviction proceedings such as these are extremely complex. In fact, winning a resentencing hearing is difficult and requires in-depth knowledge not only of the substantive legal principles but also of the procedural rules that can stand in an inmate’s way. Additionally, a thorough review of the underlying record is required. Attorney Matthew Barhoma has successfully represented others in SB 1437 petitions, a sister law to SB 775.
Additionally, an attorney should be familiar with SB 1347 and SB 775 and understand what is necessary to present a prima facie case. A California criminal appeals attorney will also be able to present evidence in favor of a resentencing hearing, such as live witness testimony, affidavits, and written declarations. A lawyer may also reach out to prosecutors in hopes of convincing them not to object at an OSC hearing.
Additionally, once a resentencing hearing is awarded, an attorney can help inmates prepare a compelling case for a more favorable sentence.
If you or a loved one is serving a long prison term based on a conviction for manslaughter or attempted murder, the recent passage of SB 775 may open the door to a resentencing hearing. At Power Trial Lawyers, we have successfully obtained resentencing hearings under SB 1437 and understand the legal landscape in which these claims arise. We will diligently prepare your SB 775 petition, presenting the court with all the information it needs to grant you a resentencing hearing. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Matthew Barhoma, call 213-800-7664. You can also reach Power Trial Lawyers, through our online contact form.