California v. JonesAnnotate this Case
Henry Jones appealed the denial of his petition to vacate his murder conviction under Penal Code section 1170.95, the resentencing provision of Senate Bill No. 1437 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.) In 2000, Jones was convicted of attempted murder and first degree felony murder, and the jury also found true the robbery-murder special circumstance, which authorized a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for “a major participant” in a felony murder who acted with “reckless indifference to human life.” The trial court summarily denied Jones’s section 1170.95 petition on groundd that his special circumstance finding rendered him ineligible for relief as a matter of law. On appeal, Jones argued the trial court erred by denying his petition without the benefit of briefing from his counsel. He argued he could demonstrate a prima facie case for relief because his special circumstance finding no longer supported a felony-murder conviction after the California Supreme Court’s decisions in California v. Banks, 61 Cal.4th 788 (2015) and California v. Clark, 63 Cal.4th 522 (2016), which clarified the meaning of “major participant” and “reckless indifference to human life.” California appellate courts have split over whether such a pre-Banks/Clark special circumstance finding rendered a petitioner ineligible for relief under section 1170.95 as a matter of law. The Court of Appeal agreed with the line of decisions in California v. Gomez, 52 Cal.App.5th 1 (2020) and California v. Galvan, 52 Cal.App.5th 1134 (2020), which held that a petitioner with a pre-Banks/Clark finding was ineligible for relief under section 1170.95 as a matter of law. The Court therefore affirmed.