Inside LADA

May 28, 2019: Spotlight: Murder Resentencing Unit

District Attorney Jackie Lacey established the Murder Resentencing Unit to evaluate potentially thousands of new claims from people seeking to reduce their murder convictions.

The claims are being filed in response to a new state law that bars prosecutors from charging accomplices who were present at the time of the crime but may not have anticipated its deadly outcome and did not play a direct role in the murder.

Senate Bill 1437 applied the new law retroactively, allowing anyone convicted of first- or second-degree murder under the state’s old felony murder law to petition for resentencing.

The office has received more than 1,100 resentencing petitions since the new law took effect on Jan. 1. An estimated 8,500 people in prison convicted of murder in Los Angeles County and 1,500 people on parole are eligible to file petitions.

“As prosecutors, we must follow the law, even when it changes drastically, and make determinations based on office policy and public safety considerations,” said Deputy-in-Charge Brock Lunsford, whose Murder Resentencing Unit began work on March 1.

Staff from the new unit must review and respond to requests for resentencing — many of them involving murder convictions from the 1970s and 1980s.

Lunsford and four paralegals assess incoming petitions for eligibility. If a case is eligible, the unit’s six deputy district attorneys review old case files and appellate opinions to determine whether to concede or oppose a petition.

The unit’s staff also must contact victims’ families to notify them of the petition and explain the new law.

“The change in the law has understandably been difficult for some families of homicide victims to process,” Lunsford said.

To date, the court has granted two resentencing petitions in Los Angeles County.