California Felony-Murder Law Challenge Backed by Ninth
The Ninth Circuit in San Francisco said a Bay Area man now serving 19 years to life for a 1996 murder conviction could try to make a case that the California law felony-murder law, which classifies unintentional killings during the commission of an “inherently dangerous” felony as second-degree murder, is unconstitutionally vague.
Shedrick Henry fatally shot Candace Richardson in the hallway of a Berkeley apartment in February 1995. Henry said he was trying to shoot a man who pointed a gun at him and that Richardson’s death was accidental. But a jury convicted him of firing a gun in an inhabited dwelling and of second-degree murder under the felony-murder law.
State courts upheld his murder conviction in 1997. But the appeals court, over prosecution objections, said Monday that Henry could file a new challenge to the California law with a federal judge in San Francisco, based on the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling.
That ruling struck down a federal law, part of the Armed Career Criminal Act, that increased punishment for any felon convicted of being armed and committing a crime that “presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”
The high court said the law was unconstitutional because it based punishment on uncertain standards related to the general nature of a crime and not on the defendant’s acts. This year, the court relied on the ruling to strike down an immigration law requiring deportation for any noncitizen convicted of a “crime of violence.” Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s appointee, cast the deciding vote in that 5-4 ruling.
Henry’s appeal contends the California law’s definition of an “inherently dangerous” felony is just as vague.
AFPD Carmen A. Smarandoiu argued the motion and AFPD Todd M. Borden wrote the briefs.