People are often aware of the criminal consequences for individuals who commit violent offenses. However, what about those present at the crime but do not commit any violence themselves? Currently, individuals present at a crime resulting in death in California can be convicted of first degree murder, even if they did not intend to kill. This controversial law, known as the felony murder law, is being reviewed by lawmakers. If the law is changed, it could open new criminal defense options for those imprisioned under the law.

The measure they are reviewing, Senate Bill 1437, would make it so that a person can only be charged for first-degree murder if they themselves committed the act. This would be a major shift from the current legal situation. The change would have a big effect on young people, as the average accomplice who is sentenced through the felony murder law is 20 years old.

Lawmakers championing the bill have used examples of individuals facing harsh penalties under the current law. This includes a man who participated in otherwise nonviolent robbery that turned violent due to another person bringing a weapon. He and others, including one as young as 14, were charged with first-degree murder despite not planning to commit a violent crime or participating in the attack itself.

Over 50 civil rights groups have said that they support the change. Law enforcement, meanwhile, argues that the felony murder law helps deter people from participating in acts that could turn violent. If the felony murder law does change, those sentenced under it should speak with a California criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to clarify their resentencing options.