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Name: People v. Superior Court (Gooden)
Case #: D075787
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 11/19/2019

Senate Bill No. 1437’s substantial amendment of the felony murder rule and natural and probable consequences doctrine does not impermissibly alter prior voter initiatives (Propositions 7 and 115). In 1982, defendant Gooden was convicted of first degree felony murder for the death of a neighbor during a burglary. Defendant Dominguez was convicted of second degree murder in 1990 under the natural and probable consequences doctrine. In 2018, the Legislature passed SB 1437, which substantially restricted application of both the felony murder rule and the natural and probable consequences doctrine. Both defendants petitioned for resentencing. The prosecution moved to dismiss the petitions, claiming SB 1437 impermissibly amended two voter-approved initiatives: Proposition 7 (which increased the sentences for murder to current levels) and Proposition 115 (which expanded the Pen. Code, § 189 list of predicate offenses for felony murder). The trial court denied the motion and the prosecution sought a writ of mandate. Held: Petitions denied. A statute enacted by voter initiative may be amended or repealed by the Legislature only with voter approval, unless the initiative statute provides otherwise. (Calif. Const., art II, § 10, subd. (c).) Proposition 7 did not authorize the Legislature to amend or repeal its provisions without voter approval. Proposition 115 authorized the Legislature to amend its provisions, but only by a two-thirds vote of each house. Because the Legislature passed SB 1437 by a two-thirds vote in the Senate and a less-than-two-thirds majority vote in the Assembly, the Court of Appeal determined whether SB 1437 actually amends Propositions 7 or 115. Legislation “amends” a voter initiative if it prohibits what the initiative authorizes or authorizes what the initiative prohibits. Under this standard, SB 1437 does not amend Proposition 7 because it does not alter the punishment for murder, and Proposition 7 did not demonstrate an intent to freeze the definition of murder as it existed at the time the ballot passed in 1978. As for Proposition 115, SB 1437 did not augment or restrict the list of predicate offenses on which first degree felony murder may be based; it only amended the mental state necessary for murder. [Editor’s Notes: (1) The San Diego County District Attorney represented the People’s interests in this appeal. The Attorney General filed an amicus curiae brief defending the constitutionality of SB 1437. (2) Justice O’Rourke dissented for the reasons stated in his dissent in People v. Lamoureux (2019) 42 Cal.App.5th 241.]