Petitioner’s 91-year sentence for juvenile offenses violates the Eighth Amendment and the issue was not moot because he is not eligible for a youth offender parole hearing. Bolton received a 91-year sentence for crimes committed when he was 16. When he was 30 years old, a sharp metal object was found in his cell. He was convicted of possession of a sharp instrument in prison and sentenced to 25 years to life under the Three Strikes law. Bolton filed habeas petitions challenging his sentence as cruel and unusual punishment and seeking youth offender treatment. The California Supreme Court issued an order to show cause, returnable to the Court of Appeal. Held: Juvenile sentence vacated; remanded for resentencing. In People v. Contreras (2018) 4 Cal.5th 349, the court held that juvenile sentences of 50 and 58 years to life were the functional equivalent of LWOP. These sentences violated the Eighth Amendment because they did not allow a meaningful opportunity for release during the juvenile offender’s natural life expectancy nor allow the juvenile sufficient time to reintegrate into society when released. Under Contreras, requiring Bolton to serve a 91-year term for offenses committed when he was 16 violates the Eighth Amendment, as it will keep him in prison for the rest of his life. Further, Bolton’s Eighth Amendment challenge is not mooted by the possibility of youth offender parole because he is not eligible for youth offender parole due to his 25-year-to-life sentence under the Three Strikes law for the offense he committed in prison when he was 30. (See Pen. Code, § 3051, subd. (h).) Because the 91-year term violates the Eighth Amendment, Bolton must be resentenced on his juvenile offenses.
Although petitioner is not entitled to resentencing on the felony offense he committed in prison when he was 30 years old, the trial court may take the sentence for this offense into account when resentencing on the juvenile offenses. Bolton argued that on remand for resentencing, the trial court must take into account the sentence for his adult conviction in order to avoid imposing a sentence that violates the Eighth Amendment. He proposed imposing a sentence of less than life for the adult crime so that he is eligible for section 3051 parole. The Court of Appeal disagreed. The Eighth Amendment applies very differently to prison terms for adult offenders, and 25-year-to-life sentences under the Three Strikes law for less serious felonies have routinely been upheld. Bolton was ineligible for resentencing under Proposition 36 because he was armed in the commission of his adult offense. Contreras and the other cases relied on by Bolton address only sentences imposed for juvenile offenders. Based on these considerations, the court concluded Bolton’s 25-year-to-life sentence under the Three Strikes law for the offense committed in prison at age 30 does not violate the Eighth Amendment and is not subject to resentencing on remand. However, the trial court may take the three strikes sentence into account when determining what term to impose for Bolton’s juvenile offenses. The court took no position on whether the total sentence for both the adult and juvenile convictions must include a meaningful opportunity for parole as defined in Contreras and its predecessors. The court distinguished In re Williams (2018) 24 Cal.App.5th 794, which held that a youth offender granted parole under section 3051 was not required to serve a consecutive sentence for an in-prison offense committed after age 25. Unlike the petitioner in Williams, Bolton is not eligible for youth offender parole because his adult felony conviction disqualifies him from section 3051 relief.
There was good cause to consider petitioner’s habeas petition on the merits. The People argued Bolton’s petition was procedurally barred as untimely and successive. The Court of Appeal disagreed. Successive or untimely petitions for writ of habeas corpus relief are summarily denied absent justification. (In re Clark (1993) 5 Cal.4th 750, 759, 797.) However, claims based on an intervening change in the law that is retroactive to final judgments “will be considered if promptly asserted and if application of the former rule is shown to have been prejudicial.” Bolton’s previous habeas petitions were filed before the decision in Contreras, which extended Graham v. Florida (2010) 560 U.S. 48 and the Miller v. Alabama (2012) 567 U.S. 460 line of cases. Because Contreras constitutes a change in the law that is retroactive to final judgments, the court could consider the merits of Bolton’s petition.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/C088774.PDF