On April 26, 2021, Governor Polis signed into law Senate Bill 124 (SB 21-124) which dramatically changed the way felony murder works in our state. This is an issue that I have been working on for many years, and in collaboration with some other wonderful advocates and politicians, we were finally able to get it done.
This reform will do so much to prevent injustice, and people who do not deserve life sentences are no longer going to be faced with the risk of living their entire life behind bars. Not only will people not have to serve life sentences who do not deserve them, but prosecutors will no longer be able to use the threat of an easily obtainable life sentence to coerce defendants into unfair plea bargains. No longer with juveniles, young adults, people with mental health conditions, or those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time have to face a life sentence they don’t deserve.
Under the old law, anyone convicted of felony murder had to do life in prison with no possibility of parole. Because the law covers such a wide range of conduct, this led to many unjust results. For example, a getaway driver who had no idea that anyone had even been killed during a robbery would have to do life. There are so many other terrible examples like this. Now, under the new law, the penalty is prison from between 16 and 48 years. So life in prison is no longer on the table for felony murder and prosecutors can’t hold a life sentence over people’s heads to pressure them into horrible plea bargains.
Possible Post-Conviction Remedies:
Unfortunately, the new law does not apply retroactively, meaning it cannot impact those who have already been sentenced for felony murder convictions. So what can be done about people who are currently serving life sentences for felony murder and who did not deserve a life sentence or an unfair plea bargain? Possible legal avenues include clemency, pardons, commutations and conviction review. At least one jurisdiction in Colorado, the 1st Judicial District Attorney in Golden, is reviewing past convictions in part for disproportionate sentences. The constitution requires sentencing proportionality, and there are so many people who are serving life sentences whose conduct does not justify such a severe punishment.
If you have a loved one or friend who is serving a sentence they do not deserve from a felony murder case, contact our office. We can discuss all the post-conviction remedies available and try to fix past wrongs.