Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a California post-conviction case discussing whether the defendant was entitled to a new sentencing hearing. Ultimately, the court concluded that the lower court failed to consider the required “youth-related mitigating factors” at sentencing. As a result, the court remanded the case so the defendant could be re-sentenced.
The Facts of the Case
As is often the case in post-conviction matters, the underlying facts of the crime are less important than the procedural history of the case. Here, the defendant was charged with murder related to a robbery in 2015. Evidently, the defendant and a group of friends attempted to rob a man. When the man refused to hand over his backpack, the defendant beat the man with a metal baseball bat. The man died later that evening. At the time of the offense, the defendant was 17 years old.
The defendant was tried and convicted in front of a jury. After the jury returned a guilty verdict, the court sentenced the defendant to life without the possibility of parole. In doing so, the court relied on section 190.2(a)(17), which dictates that murder committed during the course of an enumerated felony is an aggravating circumstance to be used at sentencing. However, nowhere in the record did the court consider the defendant’s youth-related mitigation factors.
Under the Supreme Court case, Miller v. Alabama, a juvenile offender cannot be automatically sentenced to life without the possibility of parole under a state’s sentencing statute. Thus, states must hold a hearing to determine if a juvenile offender is eligible for such a sentence. At this hearing, the judge must consider “youth-related mitigating factors that may diminish a
juvenile’s culpability and suggest a capacity for reform.”
In a subsequent California Supreme Court case, People v. Gutierrez, the court explained that the California sentencing statute, section 190.5(b), requires judges to take into account these factors. With this interpretation, section 190.5(b) complies with Supreme Court precedent.
However, in this case, the appellate court noted that the sentencing judge did not include any mention of the defendant’s youth-related mitigating factors. Thus, the defendant’s sentence failed to comply with the California state statute as well as the U.S. Supreme Court precedent. As a result, the court ordered the defendant to be re-sentenced, and that the judge consider all youth-related mitigation during the re-sentencing.
Are You Serving a Lengthy Sentence?
If you or a loved one is serving a life sentence for a California homicide offense, do not give up hope. A life sentence does not necessarily mean you will spend the rest of your life in prison. California lawmakers have recently passed a series of laws that create a path to freedom for many Californians who were given exceedingly long sentences. At Barhoma Law, Attorney Matthew Barhoma helps obtain post-conviction relief for clients facing lengthy terms of incarceration through a variety of means, including AB 2942, SB 1437, Prop 57, as well as writs of habeas corpus. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Barhoma, call 213-800-7664 today.