Defendant who was 17 years old when he committed multiple sexual offenses is entitled to a remand of his case for a new juvenile fitness hearing because after Proposition 57 the criteria changed to determine whether a minor is fit for juvenile court treatment. In 1995, when Garcia was 17 years old, he committed violent sexual offenses against multiple victims. After a juvenile court fitness hearing, he was transferred to criminal court, where he received a 94-years-to-life sentence. In 2012, Garcia sought resentencing based on a new line of cases holding a sentence which amounts to LWOP imposed on a juvenile nonhomicide defendant violates the Eighth Amendment. He was resentenced to 50 years to life under the One Strike law. He appealed. After the passage of Proposition 57, he argued that his case should be remanded for a new fitness hearing prior to resentencing. Held: Conditionally reversed and remanded. Proposition 57 eliminated the prosecution’s ability to file criminal cases against juveniles, requiring a transfer hearing before a juvenile may be tried as an adult. It applies retroactively to all cases not yet final. Although Garcia had a transfer hearing in 1995, he is entitled to a new transfer hearing because Proposition 57 altered the standards for juvenile courts to apply in deciding whether a juvenile should remain in juvenile court. Proposition 57 shifted the burden of proof, eliminating the rebuttable presumption that the defendant was not fit for juvenile court treatment. In addition, it gave the court broad discretion in how to weigh the five listed criteria.
If the case is transferred to adult criminal court, juvenile offender must be resentenced, as his 50 years to life sentence under the One Strike law is unconstitutional. After the California Supreme Court decided People v. Contreras (2018) 4 Cal.5th 349, Garcia argued that his sentence of 50 years to life does not pass constitutional muster, and that the matter must be remanded for resentencing if his case does not remain in juvenile court. The Court of Appeal agreed. In Contreras, the court held that a juvenile offender’s 50-years-to-life sentence under the One Strike law was a de facto LWOP sentence and was unconstitutional. Although Penal Code section 3051 was passed in response to a series of Supreme Court cases holding it unconstitutional for juveniles to be sentenced to a term that amounts to an LWOP sentence and is intended to provide a meaningful opportunity for juvenile defenders to obtain parole within a certain number of years, this law does not apply to One Strike sentences for certain felony sex offenses, including offenses for which Garcia was convicted. Contreras controls in this case and Garcia must be resentenced if his case if transferred to adult court. If the case is not transferred, Garcia’s convictions will be treated as juvenile adjudications and the juvenile court will impose an appropriate disposition within its discretion.
Juvenile offender’s equal protection challenge to Penal Code section 3051 is not ripe for decision. Garcia argued that section 3051, which excludes a One Strike defendant from parole consideration after he has served 25 years in custody, violates his right to equal protection of the law. Garcia pointed out that One Strike sex offenders are treated more severely than a juvenile who commits murder with special circumstances. Although the California Supreme Court determined that the treatment of juvenile One Strike offenders in section 3051 appears to raise equal protection and Eighth Amendment concerns, it has not yet decided this issue. In any event, the ripeness requirement prevents courts from issuing advisory opinions and the juvenile court has yet to decide whether Garcia should be tried as an adult.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/B269836N.PDF