In People v. Curiel, the Supreme Court today holds that a defendant serving a life-without-parole sentence for a murder committed by another should have had an evidentiary hearing to determine his eligibility for resentencing under post-conviction legislation that restricted vicarious murder liability. The trial court improperly ruled the defendant had failed to make a prima facie showing of entitlement to relief.

The court’s unanimous opinion by Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero concludes that a jury’s true finding of a gang-murder special circumstance allegation — which established the defendant’s intent to kill — had preclusive effect in the resentencing proceeding, but the effect wasn’t enough to conclusively establish the mens rea or actus reus elements for aider and abettor murder required by the new legislation, Senate Bill 1437. Other parts of the jury’s verdict in this particular case also “do not reflect all of the factual findings necessary to support a murder conviction under current law.”

Even if an aider and abettor intends to kill and “knows and intends to aid the direct perpetrator in certain conduct,” there is no murder liability if he “does not subjectively appreciate that the conduct is dangerous to human life . . . because the aider and abettor has not sufficiently concerned himself with that murder.” “The aider and abettor must know the direct perpetrator intends to commit the murder or life-endangering act and intend to aid the direct perpetrator in its commission.”

A substantial portion of the opinion is about issue preclusion. It includes an extended discussion why the court’s post-conviction decision in People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665 limiting expert testimony (see here) was not a change in the law preventing applying the special circumstance finding to the case. There is “no reasonable likelihood that the jury’s substantive finding in this case would have been different if Sanchez had been the law during Curiel’s trial,” the court says.

The court affirms the Fourth District, Division Three, Court of Appeal’s unpublished opinion, although on different grounds. It also disapproves another Division Three opinion — People v. Gonzalez (2021) 65 Cal.App.5th 420 — regarding issue preclusion principles. Gonzalez was a grant-and-hold for People v. Strong (2022) 13 Cal.5th 698 (see here) and People v. Lewis (2021) 11 Cal.5th 952 (see here), and review was dismissed after Strong and Lewis were decided (see here).