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Name: People v. McClure
Case #: H048280
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 6 DCA
Opinion Date: 08/17/2021

Penal Code section 1170.95 does not apply to individuals charged with murder but convicted by plea of voluntary manslaughter. In 2016, McClure was initially charged with deliberate and premeditated murder for her participation in events leading to the victim’s death. She pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and related charges, and admitted a great bodily injury allegation, in exchange for a stipulated 25-year sentence. In 2020, McClure petitioned for resentencing pursuant to section 1170.95. After appointment of counsel and argument, the trial court denied the petition, concluding a person convicted of voluntary manslaughter is ineligible for relief. McClure appealed. Held: Affirmed. Section 1170.95 provides that a person convicted of felony murder or murder under the natural and probable consequences theory may file a petition to have the “murder conviction” vacated if certain conditions are met. The statute does not mention manslaughter, or any other crime apart from murder. Thus, this court joined others in concluding section 1170.95 applies solely to individuals convicted of murder, despite the reference to individuals who “accepted a plea offer in lieu of a trial at which the petitioner could be convicted for first degree or second degree murder.” Read in the context of the statute as a whole, this phrase cannot reasonably be understood to encompass persons who accept a plea offer for a crime other than murder. Legislative history supports the conclusion that the Legislature did not intend to extend relief to persons convicted of manslaughter by plea. Excluding individuals convicted of manslaughter does not produce a “patently illogical” result (see People v. Bullard (2020) 9 Cal.5th 94, 109), as the punishment for manslaughter is already less than that for first or second degree murder. Section 1170.95 does not contain surplusage or latent ambiguities that would allow the court to depart from applying the statute’s plain meaning.

Excluding individuals convicted of voluntary manslaughter from relief does not violate the federal and state constitutional rights to equal protection and substantive due process, or the prohibitions against cruel and/or unusual punishment. With respect to equal protection, individuals convicted by plea of voluntary manslaughter are not similarly situated to individuals convicted of murder, which carries a more severe punishment. Even assuming these individuals are similarly situated, a challenging party must “negative every conceivable basis” that might support the disputed statutory disparity. (Johnson v. Department of Justice (2015) 60 Cal.4th 871, 881.) Here, there is a rational basis for the Legislature’s decision to restrict relief to individuals convicted of murder given the difference in punishment between murder and manslaughter. The Legislature has considerable latitude in defining and setting the consequences of criminal offenses. With respect to due process, a rational relationship exists between the goal of eliminating sentencing disparity and the method (section 1170.95 petition procedure) chosen to achieve that objective. Finally, the court disagreed with McClure’s argument that denying resentencing relief to those who plea-bargained to voluntary manslaughter but permitting relief for those who plea-bargained to a greater offense is so arbitrary as to violate the Eighth Amendment and the state constitutional proscription against cruel and/or unusual punishment. Whether a punishment is disproportionate to an offense generally depends on the circumstances existing at the time of the offense. At the time of McClure’s offense, the punishment for murder was greater than the punishment for voluntary manslaughter, as it remains. Section 1170.95 does not violate the federal or state constitutions.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: