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Name: People v. Bell
Case #: B263022
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 8
Opinion Date: 09/30/2016
Summary

Sentence of 43 years to life imposed on violent juvenile offender in nonhomicide case is not a de facto LWOP term and is not cruel and unusual punishment. Bell committed a number of violent acts, including sex offenses, just prior to turning 15. He was tried and convicted as an adult, and found to come within the One Strike law because some of the sex offenses were committed during a residential burglary with a firearm (Pen. Code, § 667.61, subd. (e)(2), (3)). After prior appeals and a writ petition, Bell was sentenced to 43 years to life; he would become eligible for parole in 2040. On appeal he claimed his parole eligibility date at age 55 violates the equal protection and cruel and unusual punishment provisions of the state and federal Constitutions. Held: Affirmed. In Graham v. Florida (2010) 560 U.S. 48, the court announced a categorical rule prohibiting LWOP sentences for minors who were convicted of nonhomicide offenses. The California Supreme Court in People v. Caballero (2012) 55 Cal.4th 262, applied Graham to nonhomicide juvenile offenders who receive a sentence so long that it amounts to a de facto LWOP term. It held that the defendant must receive a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate his rehabilitation and fitness to reenter society while he has some meaningful life expectancy remaining. However, Bell’s age 55 parole eligibility date is not a de facto LWOP term and nothing in the record reflects he would not have a meaningful life expectancy based on that date. Even given the unfortunate circumstances of Bell’s childhood, the punishment he received is not grossly disproportionate to the extremely violent crimes he committed. His sentence was not cruel and unusual punishment.

Excluding One Strike law defendants from the parole eligibility provisions of Penal Code section 3051 does not deny equal protection of the law. In response to Caballero the Legislature enacted Penal Code section 3051, which sets mandatory parole eligibility dates for persons convicted of crimes that were committed before they turned 23: (1) for a determinate sentence, at the 15th year of incarceration; (2) for a sentence of less than 25 years, during the 20th year; (3) for a sentence of 25 years-to-life, during the 25th year. However, these provisions do not apply to juveniles sentenced under the Three Strikes law, the One Strike law (for committing certain felony sex offenses), or who receive an LWOP term. Bell is excluded from the coverage of section 3051 because of his One Strike sentence. He claimed this exclusion denies him equal protection of the law because more serious offenders, such as those who kill, may receive parole at an earlier date. However, “the threat of recidivism gives rise to a rational basis for the Legislature’s decision to exclude One Strike offenders from section 3051.” “As we see it, the Legislature believes that most sex offenders pose a recidivism risk.”

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B263022.PDF