California Inmates Convicted Under 'Felony Murder Rule' Prep for New Shot at Freedom

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A state law set to take effect on Jan. 1 significantly narrows when accomplices to crimes in which someone was killed can be charged with murder.

The change to the "felony murder rule" doctrine's application in California could shift the status of more than 800 inmates serving sentences for first- and second-degree murder. In essence, accomplices who solely intended to commit an underlying felony — such as a robbery — and who didn't directly contribute or intend to kill someone cannot be convicted of murder under the new law.

Inmates previously convicted through the "felony murder rule" can now petition to change their sentence.

But exactly which inmates may be eligible for resentencing is a complicated question, depending in part on legal interpretations of the specific facts for each case. And inmates are required to personally file petitions for resentencing, though they can get help from an attorney if they ask for one.

Advocates with the organization Re:store Justice, which also championed Senate Bill 1437, toured prisons throughout the state in December, hosting a "down-and-dirty" 90-minute law school class for prisoners who could see a new chance at freedom in 2019.