Juvenile homicide offenders may not be sentenced to the functional equivalent of LWOP without the protections outlined in Miller v. Alabama (2012) 567 U.S. __. Franklin was 16 when he shot and killed a rival. The trial court sentenced him to a mandatory term of 50 years to life. On appeal, Franklin argued that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment, citing Miller and People v. Caballero (2012) 55 Cal.4th 262. The Court of Appeal affirmed, reasoning that the subsequent enactment of Penal Code section 3051 cured any potential constitutional infirmity. The California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Sentence affirmed and case remanded. As a threshold matter, the Supreme Court considered whether Miller’s prohibition on LWOP sentences for juvenile homicide offenders also prohibits sentences that are the functional equivalent to LWOP. The court answered that question in the affirmative. A similar question arose in the context of sentencing for juvenile nonhomicide offenders. In Graham v. Florida (2010) 560 U.S. 48, the Court held that no juvenile who commits a nonhomicide offense could be sentenced to LWOP. In People v. Caballero (2012) 55 Cal.4th 262, the California Supreme Court held that Graham also prohibited sentencing a juvenile nonhomicide offender to the functional equivalent to LWOP. “[J]ust as Graham applies to sentences that are the “functional equivalent of a [LWOP] sentence so too does Miller apply to such functionally equivalent sentences” for juvenile homicide offenders.
Senate Bill No. 260, which added Penal Code section 3051, moots Miller claims, but remand is required in this case to provide the parties with an opportunity to make an accurate record. The Legislature explicitly passed Senate Bill No. 260 to bring juvenile sentencing into conformity with Graham, Miller, and Caballero. At the heart of the bill is section 3051, which requires the Parole Board to conduct a “youth offender parole hearing” during the 15th, 20th, or 25th year of a juvenile offender’s incarceration. Section 3051 thus reflects the Legislature’s judgment that 25 years is the maximum amount of time that a juvenile may serve before becoming eligible for parole. Franklin did not argue that a life sentence with parole eligibility during his 25th year of incarceration (when he would be 41 years old) is the functional equivalent of LWOP. Because section 3051 transformed Franklin’s sentence into one that includes a meaningful opportunity for release during his 25th year of incarceration, it is neither LWOP nor its functional equivalent and thus has rendered Franklin’s Miller challenge moot. However, Franklin did argue that section 3051 did not satisfy Miller because it permits a trial court to abdicate its responsibility to ensure that a juvenile offender’s sentence comports with the Eighth Amendment at the outset. Although disagreeing, the Supreme Court determined that remand was appropriate “to provide an opportunity for the parties to make an accurate record of the juvenile offender’s characteristics and circumstances at the time of the offense so that the Board, years later, may properly discharge its obligation to ‘give great weight to’ youth-related factors (§ 4801, subd. (c)) in determining whether the offender is ‘fit to rejoin society’ despite having committed a serious crime ‘while he was a child in the eyes of the law.'” (Quoting Graham v. Florida (2010) 560 U.S. 48, 79.) [Editor’s Note: The court noted that its “mootness holding is limited to circumstances where, as here, section 3051 entitles an inmate to a youth offender parole hearing against the backdrop of an otherwise lengthy mandatory sentence. We express no view on Miller claims by juvenile offenders who are ineligible for such a hearing under section 3051, subdivision (h), or who are serving lengthy sentences imposed under discretionary rather than mandatory sentencing statutes.”]
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S217699.PDF