Judge's ruling could keep felony murder rule in place, convicts in prison

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

A ruling by an Orange County judge could have a major effect on about 400 people currently in prison for murder and dozens more who aren't there yet.

The felony murder rule allowed prosecutors to charge people with murder if they take part in a dangerous felony and someone gets killed in the process.

But state lawmakers tweaked it in September 2018 with SB-1437 -- passed on a 27-10 vote in the Senate and 42-36 in the Assembly. Now, if you're not a major participant and you didn't act with reckless indifference to human life, you're not a murderer.

Judge Gregg Prickett ruled the new law limiting application of the felony murder rule is unconstitutional, saying it has a few flaws, but specifically it required a two-thirds supermajority to pass because the original law was passed by proposition.

Judges across the state have had different interpretations of SB-1437, so it seems like the state Supreme Court will have to weigh in on its validity.

Fresno County prosecutors agreed to a lesser conviction for murder defendant Neko Wilson because of SB-1437 in October. Wilson's brother helped author the bill with him in mind. He was set free on October 18.