Having a conviction or criminal background can present barriers in your life, complicate legal issues, and even negatively impact several aspects of your professional and personal life. However, all hope is not lost, and you could be eligible to obtain much-needed relief by filing a petition to vacate a murder conviction.

If you need legal help filing a petition to overturn or vacate a felony murder conviction in Anaheim, our experienced attorneys at California Criminal Lawyer Group can help you. We will offer you the exceptional legal guidance and representation you need in court to increase your odds of obtaining the best possible results in your case.

Understanding What a Petition to Vacate or Overturn a Murder Conviction Means in the Eyes of the Law

When you file a petition to overturn a murder conviction, you request the court to overturn or set aside a judgment in your case. If your petition goes in your favor, the court could schedule your case for a new trial or dismiss it, depending on your attorney’s arguments and available evidence.

Once the court dismisses your conviction, your felony murder conviction will not show up during any criminal background check, releasing you from the stigma and negative repercussions caused by a conviction. If the court schedules your case for a fresh trial, you should be ready to present sufficient evidence to show the court you deserve a reduced sentence or case dismissal.

According to the old felony murder law under Penal Code (PC) 187, you commit the offense of murder when you kill another human or fetus after premeditation or malice aforethought. When you are arrested on suspicion that you are a culprit or suspect in a murder case, the prosecutor could file your case as second-degree or first-degree murder.

Whether the prosecutor will file your case as second or first-degree murder will depend on the following:

  • The facts of your unique case.
  • Criminal record.

If you are guilty of felony murder under PC 187, your sentence could include up to twenty-five (25) years or life behind bars without any chance of probation. Under PC 187, even if you did not have the criminal intent or motive to kill another person, you could be guilty of felony murder.

What the court required the prosecutor to prove to obtain a conviction against you under the old law is:

  • You committed or helped another person commit a violent felony, like mayhem, kidnapping, train wrecking, carjacking, burglary, robbery, or rape.
  • Another person died, regardless of whether it was deliberate or accidental.

For instance, suppose you drive your friends to a liquor shop and decide to wait by the car as they buy what they need. While inside the liquor store, one of your friends threatens to kill a male clerk if he interrupts the robbery or calls the police. However, due to extreme fear, the clerk dies of a heart attack.

In this situation, the prosecutor could charge you with murder even though you did not inflict injury on the person or intend to kill him under the old felony murder law. Because of this, criminal attorneys aggressively criticized this law for being unfair, especially to the accomplices of the other defendants (the actual killers), who were unaware a killing would occur.

Fortunately, under the recent felony murder rule, the prosecution must prove that you had the criminal intent or motive to kill someone to obtain a conviction against you. According to Senate Bill (SB) 1437, which the former Governor signed and approved in September 2018, you commit felony murder when you attempt, commit, or participate in a felony offense and any of the following is true:

  • You killed someone.
  • You helped and abetted in the commission of first-degree felony murder with the intent or motive to kill someone.
  • You were a major participant in the commission of a felony offense, and you acted recklessly with disregard for other human life.
  • Due to your reckless actions, a police or peace officer dies in the line of his/her duties.

In determining whether you are a major participant or behaved recklessly with disregard to human life, leading to the death of another person, the court will consider the facts and circumstances of the case. Some of the main considerations include:

  • Whether you were at the crime scene.
  • Whether you planned the felony.
  • Whether you were in a position to seek or prevent the killing.
  • Whether you were aware the gun was loaded.
  • Whether you supplied the weapons.

The main motive behind the passage of SB 1437 is to make sure the sentencing in a felony murder case is more equitable and proportional and matches a defendant's culpability by holding actual killers accountable for their actions.

Under this new felony murder law, defendants with murder convictions can file a petition to vacate or reduce their sentence if they meet the required eligibility criteria.

Eligibility Requirement for Filing an SB 1437 Petition to Overturn a Felony Murder Conviction

SB 1437 is retroactive, meaning defendants serving jail time for a felony murder conviction can request a resentencing. Unfortunately, not every defendant with a murder conviction qualifies to file a petition to vacate or reduce a sentence under this new felony murder law.

To be eligible to file a petition to overturn a felony murder conviction, you must meet certain conditions outlined under Penal Code (PC) 1170.95. There is no time limit or deadline for filing your petition under this statute, but you must satisfy or meet the eligibility requirements listed below:

  • The prosecutor must have obtained a conviction against you pursuant to the "felony murder rule" or "NPC (natural and probable consequences) legal doctrine".
  • Your conviction resulted from a second or first-degree felony murder or agreed to enter a guilty plea instead of defending the case at trial.
  • You would not be guilty of second or first-degree felony murder under SB 1437.

According to the NPC legal doctrine, you are guilty of murder if the following is true:

  • You helped in the commission of a felony offense, also known as "target crime".
  • While committing the offense, your co-participant commits the offense of murder.
  • Under these circumstances or scenarios, the killing of the person was a "natural and possible consequence" of your felonious acts.

What Your Petition to Vacate a Felony Murder Conviction Must Have

If you satisfy the above eligibility criteria or requirements, you can file your petition to overturn or vacate your murder conviction with the court that convicted and sentenced you. Your defense attorney must also officially serve the prosecutor with a copy of your petition.

If the judge who presided over your murder case is unavailable or retired, the presiding court judge can appoint another judge to give a verdict on your SB 1437 petition. Your petition must have the following crucial information or details:

  • The year your conviction occurred and your unique case number.
  • Whether you need the court to appoint a public defender to represent you.
  • A declaration or statement that shows you are eligible for post-conviction relief under the recent felony murder law.

Your murder case will return to trial if the court ascertains or confirms the above information, meaning you qualify for relief under SB 1437. When the judge accepts your request, the prosecutor should submit a response to the petition, giving your defense attorney a chance to give his/her response.

After that, the judge will determine whether a proceeding is necessary in your case. The prosecutor and your attorney will rely on your conviction record details to support or contest the conviction. The judge will vacate or reduce your sentence to a shorter term if the prosecutor cannot prove your ineligibility for this post-conviction relief option.

However, if any of the above information is unavailable or missing or the judge cannot readily ascertain it, he/she will deny your SB 1437 petition without prejudice. Then, the judge will inform you why he/she cannot accept your request without the required information.

Fortunately, if the court denies your petition based on this legal basis, you can submit a repetition when all the details are available.

Formalities and Legal Procedures for the SB 1437 Petition Hearing

According to PC 1170.95, the prosecutor has up to sixty (60) days from the date your attorney served him/her with your petition papers to file his/her response. Conversely, you or your attorney will have a chance to submit a response to the petition within thirty (30) days afterward.

Within sixty (60) days after the issuance of a directive to have your petition proceed, the court will schedule an official hearing to determine whether you deserve post-conviction relief under SB 1437. The judge could also waive the trial if he/she finds sufficient evidence to convince him/her that:

  • You were not a primary or major participant in the murder case.
  • You did not do anything with disregard for other people's lives.

During your petition proceeding or hearing, the prosecutor will carry the legal burden to prove before a judge that you are not an excellent candidate to obtain post-conviction relief under SB 1437. If he/she fails to meet the required standard of proof, the judge will likely vacate or overturn your conviction or impose a new sentence based on your remaining counts.

How a Defense Attorney Can Help You When Seeking Post-Conviction Relief Under SB 1437

You will need an attorney's legal guidance and representation when petitioning the court to vacate your murder conviction under the new felony murder rule. A reliable defense attorney can make all the difference between the court accepting or denying your petition.

In a nutshell, here are various ways a skilled defense attorney can help if you want to seek post-conviction relief under the recent felony murder law:

He/she Will Help You Understand the Law

PC 1170.95 is a tricky statute that can be challenging to comprehend, especially if you are not an attorney. If you have a prior criminal history of violent felony convictions, convincing the court to vacate or overturn your felony murder conviction could be challenging.

An attorney with experience handling post-conviction matters can help you understand the law in a way you can understand it best and what to expect in every court procedure.

He/she Will Handle Every Legal Technicality

Your attorney will handle every legal issue in your case to increase your odds of obtaining a desirable outcome. For instance, he/she will know what information you need to include in your petition to show the court that you are an excellent candidate to have your murder conviction vacated or your sentence reduced.

Additionally, you must file your petition and your responses within a certain deadline. The court could deny your petition if you forget or fail to do so. Once you retain the services of an experienced attorney, you will not have to worry about these deadlines because he/she knows about them.

He/she Will Offer You Legal Counsel and Representation in Court

You will need an attorney to help you understand your legal rights and be your voice at every stage of the process for the best possible results. Aside from filing the petition on your behalf, your defense will help present the necessary evidence and arguments to convince the prosecutor and the judge that you deserve this post-conviction relief.

Generally, retaining the services of an attorney can increase your chances of obtaining the best possible outcome on your SB 1437 petition to overturn a felony murder conviction. Ensure the defense attorney you retain to help you with this post-conviction matter is:

  • Credible and reputable.
  • Qualified and experienced.
  • Accessible and available.
  • Cost-friendly.
  • Legally licensed.

If you have a friend who knows a reliable defense attorney, you can ask him/her to give you the attorney's contact details to reduce the hassle of finding a dependable attorney for your case. Even if the attorney is unfamiliar with post-conviction matters, chances are he/she knows a friend or colleague who can help you with your unique case.

The Difference Between Vacating a Verdict or Judgment and Vacating Murder Conviction

Since former Governor Jerry Brown approved and signed Assembly Bill (AB) 2867, defendants can now seek relief for their convictions. AB 2867 was introduced on September 18, 2018, to amend PC 1473.7 on criminal convictions. When you file an official motion to overturn or vacate a verdict, you request that the court overturn your case's judgment.

According to PC 1473.7, you could qualify to have a judgment or verdict for a criminal offense overruled or overturned if you are not in legal custody and your defense attorney can prove the following:

  • A prejudicial mistake or error affected the outcome of your case.
  • You have recently discovered evidence that can help prove your innocence.
  • You did not understand the consequences of your guilty plea, for example, deportation consequences.

If you have a felony murder conviction, you cannot have the court withdraw a verdict on your case under PC 1473.7, and this is how this statute differs from SB 1437's petition to overturn a murder conviction.

Another notable difference is that petitioners seeking to have their murder convictions vacated are behind bars. However, if you want the court to overrule or withdraw a judgment in a criminal case, you can file your PC 1437.7 motion even if you are out of legal custody.

Other Post-Conviction Relief Options for Murder

An SB 1437 petition to overturn a felony murder conviction is a new legal remedy or relief option for defendants with murder convictions. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, not every defendant qualifies for relief under this new felony murder rule.

If you are eligible for post-conviction relief under SB 1437, your attorney can help you seek other relief options to avoid or reduce the severe consequences of a conviction. Other post-conviction relief options that existed before the enactment of this law include:

Applying for a Pardon from the Governor

A Governor's pardon (GP) is typically an acknowledgment or affirmation by the office of the Governor that you are now a rehabilitated and law-abiding citizen.

A defendant with a felony murder conviction or perhaps any other offense conviction can apply for a GP, which can relieve him/her from many detrimental consequences associated with a conviction. To obtain a GP, you must submit your application within ten (10) years after completing your probation or parole.

Unlike an SB 1437 petition to overturn a felony murder conviction, a GP can apply to one or multiple criminal convictions on your record. However, your chances of qualifying for a pardon will be less if you have several other convictions on your criminal record. If everything works to your advantage, this pardon will restore many of your rights, including:

  • The right to buy, own and carry a firearm.
  • The right to serve in a jury trial.
  • The right to secure employment as a probation officer.
  • The right to make applications to obtain professional licenses.
  • The right to avoid deportation, meaning you are lawfully present.
  • A relief from your duty to register as a sex offender as required under PC 290.

Appealing Your Murder Conviction

Your defense attorney can help you file an official appeal with the appellate court (higher court), requesting the judge to examine and review the verdict on your murder conviction, which occurred in the superior court (lower court). It is important to note that the legal process of appealing a conviction does not involve the following:

  • Introducing new evidence.
  • Introducing new eyewitness testimonies.
  • Retrying your murder case.

The appellate court judge will access and examine the proceedings and the verdict of the superior court on your murder case to determine whether a possible judicial error(s) affected the outcome of your case. The appellate court could overturn your murder conviction or sentence if your defense attorney can prove that a judicial mistake prejudiced the outcome of your case.

Generally speaking, you have thirty (30) to sixty (60) days after a felony murder conviction to submit your Notice of Appeal. The legal process of appealing your murder conviction is longer than the process of vacating a felony murder conviction under SB 1437.

Court Recall

The judge can recall a conviction within one hundred and twenty (120) days of sentencing you. When a judge recalls a conviction, he/she will remove it and order another new sentence, which cannot be harsher than the previous sentence. In determining whether or not to recall your conviction, the judge will consider various factors, including:

  • Your disciplinary history.
  • Your rehabilitation and treatment record.
  • Your likelihood of committing another violent offense.
  • The interest of justice.

Submit a Petition to Have Your Sentence Reduced

Aside from having your felony murder conviction overturned or vacated, SB 1437 also allows you to file a petition with the court where your murder conviction occurred to have your sentence lowered. The eligibility criteria for a sentence reduction are typical or similar to the ones mentioned above for a petition to overturn a felony murder conviction.

Once your attorney proves beyond a reasonable doubt that you are an excellent candidate for this post-conviction relief, the court will hold a hearing to determine whether you should receive a lighter sentence for your conviction. The prosecutor's role in this proceeding is to provide evidence and prove that you do not deserve a reduced sentence for your felony murder conviction.

The court could reduce your sentence for a murder conviction if the prosecutor presiding over your case cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you do not deserve a lighter sentence.

Find a Reliable Anaheim Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

With years of experience and vast knowledge of the happenings in the criminal justice system and post-conviction issues, our attorneys at California Criminal Lawyer Group will gladly help you seek post-conviction relief. Filing a petition to overturn or vacate a murder conviction is one of the ways you could obtain the relief you need from all the disabilities caused by a criminal record.

Call us at 714-766-0965 if you or a loved one needs legal assistance filing a petition to vacate a murder conviction in Anaheim. In addition to assisting you with the filing process, we will strive to convince the judge and prosecutor that you are an excellent candidate for this post-conviction relief option.