A conviction for murder in California can affect many areas of your life. Employers may deny your employment when the conviction shows up on your background checks. You may be unable to secure tenancy and face constant stigmatization from society. However, you should not give up if you have a past murder conviction on your record. It’s possible to wipe off the murder conviction from your history under certain circumstances. Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm can help you submit a petition to vacate a conviction.

Petition to Vacate a Criminal Judgment According to California Law

The alternative name for the petition to vacate a criminal judgment is the motion to withdraw a plea. The California PC 1018 allows defendants to submit a petition requesting the court to extract an order or judgment on their records. This law will enable you to recall your guilty plea or no contest plea and make a not guilty plea.

For you to qualify to submit a motion to withdraw a plea, you have to prove good cause. You should file the petition to vacate judgment before your sentencing. You can also file the motion within six months of the probation sentencing. If the court grants the motion, you will have an opportunity to replace the guilty plea with a not guilty plea. It’s important to note that it might be impossible to submit a motion to withdraw a plea after your incarceration. Instead, you could file a motion for expungement or sealing of your history or unlawful imprisonment.

You have to prove a good cause to submit a motion to withdraw a plea. The court may grant your petition under certain circumstances:

  • You didn’t understand the consequences of the plea at the time of entering the plea.
  • When you took the plea, you had no privilege of representation by a competent or experienced attorney.
  • An incompetent or an unqualified attorney represented you at the time of taking the plea.
  • You took the plea under duress, or another party caused you to enter the plea.

The law allows defendants to submit an appeal requesting the judge to amend a sentence’s conditions or shorten the sentence. The judge may grant your request if it’s evident that the court imposed an incorrect or unfair jail term or made a clerical mistake. The judge may also grant your request if your sentencing was unlawful and if a judicial mistake occurred at the time of sentencing. If the sentencing judge made an error when considering the evidence against you, the court might be willing to amend your sentencing conditions.

Felony Murder Rule Under California Law

According to the California Senate Bill 1437, you might be liable for murder if you take part or commit a felony offense and:

  • You murdered another person.
  • You assisted or helped in the commission of 1st-degree murder with the intent of killing.
  • You were a significant contributor or participant in a felony, and your actions depicted a careless disregard for human life.
  • As a result of your action, a law enforcement officer was killed while performing his/her work.

The prosecutor can’t convict you of felony murder unless you committed or attempted to commit a particular felony.

PC 1170.95 – Petition to Vacate Murder Conviction

In the past, you might be convicted or murder under PC 489, even if you didn’t cause the victim’s death. You might be guilty as long as you participated in a dangerous activity that resulted in the victim’s death. If the victim died as you committed the felonious acts, you could face murder charges under PC 489. Therefore, you might be guilty of felony murder even though:

  • You didn’t have the intention of killing the victim.
  • You killed the victim by accident.
  • You were not aware of the occurrence of the murder or that the victim died.

Under PC 489, the prosecutor only needed to prove certain factors before a felony murder accusation.

  • That you committed or took part in committing the felony
  • Another person died due to your actions though it was by accident.

However, this statute changed with the passage of Senate Bill 1437. The then governor in California, Jerry Brown, signed in the Bill in October 2018. This Bill changed the requirements for convincing a defendant of murder. This law gives a chance for people previously convicted of murder to submit a petition for the vacation of murder charges. The California PC 1170.95 outlines the process of filing a petition.

The passage of this Bill enhances the fair handling of criminal sentences. The law also ensures that criminal convictions equal the liability of the defendant. The passage of Senate Bill 1437 has also helped to reduce the overcrowding of prisons in California. This law prevents long sentences for a person who didn’t kill.

If you intend to submit a petition to vacate a conviction or seek a re-sentencing, you need to meet two requirements for you to be eligible:

  • Your conviction should have resulted from liability under California law on felony murder.
  • The conviction should have been following the doctrine of probable consequences. You can’t qualify to submit a petition to vacate conviction if you killed the victim.

According to the NPC (Natural and Probable Consequences) theory, you might be liable for felony murder in certain instances:

  • You assisted in the commission of a targeted crime or a felony.
  • In the course of committing the felony, another person or your co-participant carried out the murder.
  • The murder or the death of the victim was a probable consequence of your unlawful or felonious action.

A co-participant in a crime refers to a person who assisted in the commission of the crime. The judge will consider several aspects and facts of the crime to determine whether the murder was a probable consequence of your actions.

Filing a Motion or Petition for Resentencing

After a conviction for felony murder under California felony murder or NPC theory, you can submit a petition to vacate the murder conviction. However, you have to fulfill certain conditions to file the petition successfully:

  • The charge paper or sheet authorized the prosecutor to proceed under NPC theory or felony murder doctrine.
  • You were sentenced to a 1st-degree or 2nd-degree murder. The sentencing should have occurred after your case proceeded to trial. You could also have agreed to a guilty plea instead of a hearing.
  • It should be evident that you can’t be convicted of 1st-degree or2nd-degree murder after the passage of Senate Bill 1437.

How to Appeal Your Sentence Under the California Senate Bill 1437

According to the California Senate Bill 1437, the petitioner is the person filing the petition. When you are filing a petition, the law requires you file with:

  • The court that sentenced you
  • The agency which prosecuted you
  • The lawyer who represented you during the previous sentencing

As you file the petition, you have to capture your declaration form. In the declaration, you will state that you are eligible or qualify to reduce your sentence. Your eligibility will depend on whether you have met all the conditions required by the law.

You are also entitled to a resentencing hearing if you meet all the requirements to reduce your sentence. During this hearing, the court will determine if to reduce your sentence. The prosecutor will do everything to show that the court should not reduce your sentence.

Information Needed While Submitting a Petition

With your petition’s help with the prosecuting body or agency in the area that passed the conviction. If the jury that passed your sentence is unavailable, the presiding judge may assign another judge to handle the petition. You should include specific information in the motion:

  • The conviction year and the case number
  • Your declaration that you qualify for relief according to PC 1170.85 or SB 1437
  • Whether you request or seek to have a counsel appointed

If you fail to provide any of the needed information, the court might deny the petition without prejudice. The court might also deny the petition if it’s unable to verify specific facts. If the court denies your petition due to missing data, your attorney can help you file another petition after retrieving the unavailable information.

Ineligibility for Relief Under Senate Bill 1437 and Penal Code 1170.95

You might not qualify for relief under Senate Bill 1437 and Penal Code 1170.95 under certain circumstances:

  • If the prosecuting officer proves that you murdered the victim
  • You didn’t kill the victim by you intended to kill him or her by assisting the real killer
  • You were the primary participant in the victim’s killing. You acted irresponsibly and portrayed a careless disregard for human life
  • The victim of a murder peace officer who was in the course of performing his or her official duties

Felony Murder Under Senate Bill 1437 and Its Penalties

Felony murder is similar to non-felony murder because it falls under two categories: 1st-degree murder and 2nd-degree murder. The degree of the murder depends on the particular felony you committed and other facts of your case. California law imposes different penalties for 1st-degree felony murder and 2nd-degree felony murder.

According to California PC 189, you’ll face 1st-degree murder charges if you murder in the course of committing the following felonies:

  • Carjacking
  • Arson
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Mayhem
  • Tortu
  • Train wrecking
  • Unlawful acts of sodomy

You could also face 1st-degree murder charges depending on the means you use to commit murder. 1st-degree murder charges will apply if:

  • You use a destructive weapon or explosive to commit murder.
  • The use of a weapon of excessive or mass destruction while committing murder
  • Inflicting torture while committing murder
  • Engaging in premeditated, willful, or deliberate murder

According to SB 1437, you can’t be convicted of murder unless:

  • You committed, took part, or tried to take part in a felony.
  • When you took part in the felony, you intended to kill or assist in a 1st-degree murder commission.

If the court convicts you of felony murder in the first degree, some of the penalties you may face for the offense are:

  • A prison sentence in a state prison ranging from 25 years to a life sentence
  • Life imprisonment in a state prison in California without a likelihood of parole
  • A death penalty under California law

If the court convicts you of 2nd-degree murder, you’ll face lesser penalties than those of 1st-degree murder. For a 2nd-degree murder conviction, you will receive a sentence of 15 years or life imprisonment in a state prison in California.

Petition Hearing Procedure

What should you expect after filing a petition to vacate a murder conviction under California law?

  • The prosecutor will serve a reply to your motion within 60 days. You will receive an opportunity to give a reply in thirty days after the prosecutor’s response. In some instances, the judge may give further responses if one party shows a good cause.
  • Within sixty days, the judge issues show-cause order. The court then holds a court hearing to determine whether to re-sentence you or to vacate the murder conviction. The prosecutor may decide to forego the court hearing and conclude that you are entitled to be released. The hearing may not be held should the jury or the court also feel that you were not a significant participant in the murder. The same case may apply if the court thinks you didn’t act or portray a disregard of human life.
  • During the petition or motion hearing, the prosecuting officer will strive to show that you don’t deserve a vacation of your conviction or a re-sentencing. If the prosecuting officer cannot confirm these facts beyond any doubt, the court may vacate your murder conviction. The judge will then convict you based on the remaining charges. This will rely on the trial transcripts, and either party may present fresh or additional evidence.
  • The judge will re-designate your conviction as the target offense or underlying felony for resentencing. This will happen if you are entitled to a vacation, but the court charged the murder crime generically without charging the underlying offense.
  • If the court re-sentences you, you’ll receive credit or exemption for the time you had served for the murder conviction. Later on, the court may order supervision for you for several years after completion of the sentence.

Your 6th Amendment Rights While Submitting a Petition

While submitting a petition for a conviction for murder vacation, you are still a crime under California law. Therefore, you’re still entitled to your rights as provided under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S constitution:

  • You have a right to legal counsel
  • Right to a fair jury
  • Right to a speedy trial
  • A chance to confront witnesses

You also have a legal right to understand all the charges that the prosecution brings against you. If you experience unnecessary delays while filing a petition, you can exercise your legal right to a timely trial by taking action against the parties involved. You should ensure that you have ample legal representation. This will increase your chances of getting the petition to vacate murder conviction granted.

Why You Need an Attorney While Filing a Petition

You shouldn’t submit a petition to vacate a murder conviction on your own. You need a competent attorney to help you in the legal process. Some of the reasons as to why you need an attorney are:

The Law is Complicated

The law is intricate because it includes many faucets and legal jargon that might be complicated to comprehend. It may be hard to show that you should get a re-sentencing or relief from your murder charges. It might even be hard to submit the first petition without the assistance of a competent attorney. You will be able to navigate the legal world with the assistance of an attorney. The chances are that your attorney has handled similar motions to remove murder convictions before. Therefore, they understand all the necessary steps to follow to persuade the court to grant the petition. 

Providing Legal Guidance

It’s stressful to face the burden of a conviction. You might not manage to negotiate with the prosecution and the court to show that you deserve relief. An attorney will take this burden off your shoulder by negotiating and handling all the case proceedings on your behalf.

An Attorney Understands the Legal Procedures

While submitting a petition for relief from a conviction, you must provide key information and meet various legal requirements. For instance, you have to give a case number of your previous conviction. You also have to file the petition with the agency and court that made the initial conviction. The court may deny your petition if you fail to provide all the necessary information. With the assistance of an attorney, you’ll be able to compile and present all the crucial facts needed to file the petition. You might not manage to consolidate all the necessary information on your own. This is where an attorney comes in.

Negotiating With the Prosecutor

An attorney also negotiates with the prosecutor on your behalf. If your petition proceeds to the re-sentencing hearing, the prosecuting officer will strive to show that you don’t deserve a re-sentencing or relief from the murder conviction. You might not manage to argue with the prosecutor and show that you should get relief. However, you don’t have to worry if you have a competent attorney to represent you. The attorney will face the prosecution and negotiate with the court to reduce your vacating your murder charges.

Challenging the Prosecutor’s Evidence

During the petition hearing, the prosecutor will have an opportunity to avail evidence against you in the prior conviction. The law also allows the prosecutor to present new evidence against you. Your attorney will also have a chance to provide new findings and evidence to fight your charges. An attorney will play a significant role in restating your case’s previous facts and gathering further evidence to show that you should get a release from the conviction.

Not all the evidence that a prosecutor presents against you is legit and deserving. An attorney will come in handy to challenge the prosecutor’s evidence and identify any lapses. If the prosecuting officer presents contradicting proof, your attorney will be quick to recognize this mismatch.

Other Applicable Remedies for a Felony Murder Conviction in California

The newest legal remedy for a conviction for murder in California is the petition to leave a murder conviction. However, other remedies are available under the law. Other legal options for people convicted of felony murder are:

  • Governor’s pardon
  • Appeal to the murder conviction
  • A sentence reduction petition

If you have received rehabilitation for the crime, you committed you can apply for a Governor’s pardon. This pardon can relieve you of most of the consequences arising from your conviction. If convicted of murder or another criminal charge, you will have 7 to 10 years from the date probation or parole completion. It’s important to note that if you get a Governor’s Pardon, the conviction will remain on your record and serve as a priorable offense if you commit a subsequent crime. The law also requires you to avoid committing any serious offense within ten years after the pardon.

Most murder convictions in California are administered in lower courts. If you’re not comfortable with the lower court’s decision, you may submit an appeal in a court with a higher jurisdiction.

Senate Bill 1437 allows defendants to submit a petition for sentence reduction in addition to the petition for relief from a conviction. You have to file this petition with the prosecuting agency and sentencing judge or court for the previous conviction. The eligibility conditions for sentence reduction are similar to those of petition for vacation of murder charges.

Find an Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Previously, a conviction for murder in California would have seemed like a death sentence with no way out. However, after the new law’s passage on a conviction petition, there is hope for people convicted of felony murder. If you are convicted of felony murder in Orange County, you can explore your eligibility to file a motion to vacate murder conviction. Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm can guide you through the process. Contact us at 714-740-7848 and talk to one of our attorneys.