In People v. Gentile, the Supreme Court today holds that, under 2018’s Senate Bill 1437, an accomplice cannot be liable for second degree murder just because the murder is the natural and probable consequence of the aided and abetted crime. The legislation’s stated intent was, in part, “to ensure that murder liability is not imposed on a person who is not the actual killer, did not act with the intent to kill, or was not a major participant in the underlying felony who acted with reckless indifference to human life.”
The court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Goodwin Liu decision concludes that SB 1437 “superseded” an earlier Supreme Court case that, although ruling natural and probable consequences liability cannot extend to first degree premeditated murder, left that liability in place for second degree murder (People v. Chiu (2014) 59 Cal.4th 155, 166).
The court also decides that relief under SB 1437 is not available on direct appeal for defendants convicted before the legislation’s effective date. Instead, they must petition for resentencing under Penal Code section 1170.95.
Some district attorneys, but not the Attorney General, have challenged SB 1437’s validity under the California Constitution, with some success at the superior court level, but not in the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court has not agreed to decide that issue, and probably won’t unless a Court of Appeal finds the law unconstitutional. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
The court reverses the Fourth District, Division Two, Court of Appeal. It agrees with seven other Court of Appeal decisions.