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California Considers Sentence Enhancements for Murder Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender (PC 190)

While visiting his parents on break from the University of Pennsylvania, 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, who identified as gay, was reportedly stabbed more than 20 times and left to die in a park in Lake Forest. Samuel Woodward has been charged with Bernstein’s murder, which authorities believe may have been motivated by Bernstein’s sexual orientation, and has plead not guilty.

In response to this crime, California lawmakers have introduced a bill that would create sentence enhancements for murder when the crime is motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender.

Proposed Sentence Enhancements for Murder Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender (Senate Bill 971)

State Senator Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) recently introduced Senate Bill 971, which would add sentence enhancements to murder convictions when the crime is made due to the victim’s sexualMurder_5-300x200 orientation or gender.

This bill would change California’s law involving “special circumstances murder” under Penal Code Section 190.2. Under this law, a murder involving “special circumstances” carries a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty, which is more severe than potentially facing 25 years to life for first-degree murder.

Isn’t Murder Because of Sexual Orientation or Gender Already a Hate Crime?

California currently has sentence enhancements in place for “hate crimes,” which are crimes motivated by the victim’s race, religion, ethnicity, nation of origin, gender and sexual orientation. However, California hate crime laws do not apply to murder motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender.

If the district attorney is seeking an enhancement for murder under current law, he or she can pursue charges of murder with special circumstances. Under PC 190, “special circumstances” include:

  • Murder when the victim is a government official or police officers
  • Murder carried out for financial gain
  • Murder of a witness
  • Murder involving torture
  • Murder if you have a prior murder conviction
  • Multiple murders, aknd
  • Murder motivated by race, religion or nationality

Currently there is no special circumstance for murder motivated by sexual orientation or gender. If Senate Bill 971 is passed, murder motivated by sexual orientation or gender would be included as a special circumstance.

Contact the Murder Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today

If you or someone you care about is charged with murder under PC 187 or PC 190, your first act should be to retain the services of an experienced murder defense attorney. At Wallin & Klarich, we have more than 35 years of experience successfully defending clients accused of serious crimes, including murder. We work tirelessly and use all of our legal knowledge and skill to help our clients achieve the best possible outcome in their cases. Let us help you now.

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, West Covina, Torrance, Los Angeles and San Diego, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich murder defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.

Contact our murder defense law firm today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation regarding your case. We will get through this together.

About Wallin & Klarich


Wallin & Klarich was established in 1981. Over the past 32 years, our law firm has helped tens of thousands of families in their time of legal need. Regardless of whether our clients faced criminal or DUI charges, the loss of their driving privilege, or wanted to clean up their criminal record, we have been there to help them.