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Name: People v. Mendoza
Case #: H039705
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 6 DCA
Opinion Date: 03/30/2017

Proposition 57 does not apply retroactively to cases that were pending on appeal on the date it went into effect. Ramirez and other defendants were sentenced to 15 years to life for second degree murder with a gang enhancement. Ramirez was 16 years old at the time of the homicide and was charged by direct filing in adult court, as permitted by the laws in effect at the time. While his appeal was pending, voters passed Proposition 57, which eliminated a prosecutor’s discretion to directly file charges against juvenile offenders in adult court. Now any allegation of criminal conduct against a minor must be commenced in juvenile court and the prosecution may file a motion to transfer the case to adult court. The juvenile court will then decide whether the minor should be transferred to adult court. In a petition for rehearing, Ramirez argued that he was entitled to relief under Proposition 57 because it applied retroactively to his case. Held: Affirmed. In general, laws apply prospectively only, absent clear legislative intent to the contrary. However, when a statute is amended to reduce the punishment for a particular offense, courts will infer that the Legislature or voters intended that the amended statute apply to all defendants whose judgments were not final on the statute’s operative date. (In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal.2d 740.) Here, the ballot materials related to Proposition 57 do not reflect clear intent for Proposition 57 to apply retroactively. The court concluded that the Estrada rule did not apply because, while Proposition 57 potentially benefits a class of offenders based on age, it does not mitigate punishment for a particular crime. (See People v. Brown (2012) 54 Cal.4th 314, 325.) Proposition 57 provides no certainty that a minor would actually receive a mitigated penalty because juvenile courts have discretion to transfer cases to adult court, in which case the resulting penalty for all offenses may be the same as they were before Proposition 57.

Prospective-only application of Proposition 57 does not violate defendant’s equal protection or due process rights. The concept of equal protection requires that similarly situated individuals be treated equally unless there is a justification for differential treatment. Here, defendant falls within a class of individuals whose trials already commenced, and he is similarly situated with a hypothetical class of individuals who are 16 or 17 years old and accused of crimes that could result in transfer to adult court, but whose trials did not commence before Proposition 57 passed. However, there is a rational basis for treating these two groups differently, as voters could rationally conclude that applying Proposition 57 prospectively would serve the legitimate interest of not overwhelming juvenile courts with requests for fitness hearings by those who have already been convicted in adult court for crimes committed as juveniles. The court disagreed with defendant’s argument that strict scrutiny should apply under People v. Olivas (1976) 17 Cal.3d 236, and further disagreed with defendant’s assertion that his due process rights were violated under Kent v. United States (1966) 383 U.S. 541, which did not involve review of whether a law that had taken effect after a conviction should be applied retroactively.

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