CA Supreme Court decision could lead to multiple death LWOP resentencings

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A number of people on California’s death row could be resentenced in the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling earlier this month.

The unanimous decision reversed an appeals court ruling and found that a person who was not the shooter but was sentenced to death or life without parole (LWOP) can, under SB 1437, petition for resentencing. SB 1437, adopted by the legislature in 2018, narrowed the law of murder. It said that a non-trigger person must personally have at least “reckless indifference to human life” for first-degree murder and cannot be convicted of murder based only on an intent to commit a non-homicide crime like robbery.

SB 1437 allows people who have already lost on appeal to reopen their cases, with the assistance of appointed counsel, to argue that they could not be convicted of murder under the new, narrower law.

“People v. Strong says SB 1437 applies to many people sentenced to death or LWOP and gives them a chance to have a lawyer and a court take a second look with a deeper dive into the specific facts of what they did or did not do and what they did or did not know. Some will have a chance for a term of years for robbery and/or assault instead of 25-life, or LWOP, or death for murder,” Robert D. Bacon, a death penalty lawyer, says.

“Strong is a big deal,” he says. He speculates that most of those who will be resentenced will be non-trigger people serving life without parole sentences, but there are men and women sentenced to death who could be resentenced as well.

“It’s impossible to predict how many of them will actually win relief,” Bacon says.

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