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Name: People v. Paige
Case #: A157494
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 06/25/2020

Relief pursuant to Penal Code section 1170.95 is not available to defendants who were charged with murder but convicted of voluntary manslaughter under a plea agreement. Paige filed a petition requesting that his manslaughter conviction be vacated based on the changes to the law of murder made by SB 1437. He argued that he accepted a plea offer in lieu of a murder trial, and that he could not now be convicted of murder after SB 1437 invalidated the natural and probable consequences and felony murder doctrines. The trial court denied the petition, because Paige, although charged with felony murder, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. On appeal Paige argued that the court erred in denying his petition. Held: Affirmed. Section 1170.95 unequivocally applies only to murder convictions. It provides potential resentencing to “[a] person convicted of felony murder or murder under a natural and probable consequences theory” if after the change in the law, the defendant could not be convicted of murder. Paige based his argument on section 1170.95, subdivision (a)(2), which states that as a prerequisite to qualify for relief, a petitioner must declare that he “was convicted of first or second degree murder following a trial or accepted a plea offer in lieu of a trial at which the petitioner could be convicted for first degree or second degree murder.” But this is only one of the conditions that must apply before a defendant convicted of felony murder or natural and probable consequences murder may seek relief. The “plea offer” reference in subdivision (a)(2) refers to first or second degree murder, not voluntary manslaughter. This interpretation comports with the Legislature’s intent to make “statutory changes to more equitably sentence offenders in accordance with their involvement in homicides.” The court agreed with other Court of Appeal decisions addressing this issue, relying heavily on People v. Turner (2020) 45 Cal.App.5th 428.

Restricting the application of Penal Code section 1170.95 to defendants convicted of murder does not violate equal protection of the law. Paige also argued that an interpretation of section 1170.95 that affords relief to defendants convicted of felony murder but not voluntary manslaughter, when both groups of defendants “are subject to prosecution under the felony murder rule merely because they were minor participants in a robbery, who acted without reckless indifference to human life, and a codefendant shot and killed someone,” violates the equal protection provisions of the federal and California Constitutions because it treats differently persons similarly situated without a rational basis for doing so. The Court of Appeal disagreed, agreeing with and adopting the reasoning in People v. Cervantes (2020) 44 Cal.App.5th 884, and People v. Sanchez (2020) 48 Cal.App.5th 914 on this point.