A defendant who faced murder liability under the natural and probable consequences doctrine, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter in lieu of trial, is not eligible for resentencing under Penal Code section 1170.95 (SB 1437). In 2005, Turner and two codefendants got in a physical altercation with the victim. One of the codefendants pulled out a handgun, and shot and killed the victim. All three were charged with first degree murder. Turner pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. In 2019, Turner filed a petition pursuant to section 1170.95 seeking to vacate his voluntary manslaughter conviction. The trial court denied the petition. Turner appealed, arguing SB 1437 extends to individuals who were charged with murder under a theory of felony murder or murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine but pleaded guilty to manslaughter to avoid trial. Held: Affirmed. The petitioning prerequisites listed in section 1170.95, subdivision (a) and the available relief defined in subdivision (d) (vacating a “murder conviction”) indicate the Legislature intended to limit relief to those convicted of murder because the statute explicitly refers to murder convictions. The statute is unambiguous. Turner’s reliance on subdivision (a)(2), which requires a defendant to declare that he or she “was convicted of first degree or second degree murder following a trial or accepted a plea offer in lieu of a trial,” ignores the introductory language of subdivision (a), which limits petitions to persons convicted of murder. The legislative history of SB 1437, and its predecessor Senate Concurrent Resolution 48, confirms that Turner is not eligible for resentencing under section 1170.95. This construction does not produce absurdity or undermine the Legislature’s goal of calibrating punishment to culpability.
SB 1437 does not provide an avenue to challenge the factual basis for petitioner’s conviction. The Court of Appeal acknowledged that, in hindsight, Turner would have fared better by pleading guilty to murder. Turner was charged with murder presumably based on the theory that the murder was the natural and probable consequence of a gang assault. However, he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, which is an intentional and unlawful killing without malice usually based on a sudden quarrel, heat of passion, or imperfect self-defense. Neither felony murder nor the natural and probable consequences doctrine are theories on which one can commit voluntary manslaughter. If there is a problem with Turner’s conviction, it may lie in the adequacy of the factual basis for his plea. Before a court can approve a conditional plea of guilty or no contest to a felony, it must satisfy itself that there is a factual basis for the plea. (Pen. Code, § 1192.5.) But the Court of Appeal concluded that the adequacy of the factual basis was not properly before it. If there is a remedy regarding the lack of factual basis in this case, it lies in a petition for writ of habeas corpus, supported by transcripts of the preliminary hearing and plea colloquy.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/D075788.PDF