In 2018, the California legislature passed S.B. 1437 to narrow California’s felony murder rule and theoretically apply the rule only to those with the greatest culpability in a murder. However, whether intentionally or negligently, the law leaves room to disproportionally and unjustly affect adolescents by charging those with “reckless indifference” with first-degree murder. Imbedded in psychology and neuroscience research is the conclusion that adolescent brain structure and function are still rapidly developing. As a result, adolescents are less able to weigh the risks of their actions, resist peer pressure, regulate their emotions, and control their impulses. Therefore, this Note argues that the “reckless indifference” standard under California Penal Code section 189 should not apply to adolescents because they are inherently reckless. Instead, to charge an adolescent with first-degree murder, prosecutors should be required to prove the mens rea typically associated with first-degree murder. Further, before charging an adolescent with second-degree murder under a felony murder theory, a judge should be required to analyze the youthful offender’s culpability, accounting for their age and environment.
Raychel Teasdale, Accounting for Adolescents’ Twice Diminished Culpability in California’s Felony Murder Rule, 53 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 307 (2019).