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Name: People v. Ngo (2023) 89 Cal.App.5th 116
Case #: E078723
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 03/10/2023

Penal Code section 3051 does not violate equal protection because there is a rational basis for excluding youthful offenders sentenced to LWOP from youthful offender parole hearings. Ngo, at the age of 19, was convicted of first degree murder, with a financial gain special circumstance and a firearm enhancement. He was sentenced to LWOP, plus 25 years-to-life. Ngo subsequently filed a motion for a Franklin hearing, requesting to preserve evidence of youth-related mitigating factors for purposes of a future youthful offender parole hearing pursuant to section 3051, which was denied due to his ineligibility as a result of his LWOP sentence. On appeal, Ngo argued that section 3051’s distinction between youthful offenders with LWOP and non-LWOP sentences violates equal protection. Held: Affirmed. The Court of Appeal disagreed, concluding there were several rational bases for treating the two classes differently: (1) section 3051 was enacted specifically to provide an opportunity for parole to youthful offenders serving a de facto LWOP sentence for nonhomicide crimes (in response to People v. Caballero (2012) 55 Cal.4th 262); (2) section 3051 provides for a youthful offender parole hearing, and youth offenders sentenced to LWOP are not entitled to a parole at all; and (3) it is the duty of the Legislature to recognize degrees of culpability and “[a] person guilty of murder with special circumstances is the worst of the worst.” [Editor’s Notes: (1) The California Supreme has granted review in People v. Hardin (2022) 84 Cal.App.5th 273, review granted 1/11/2023 (S277487) to consider the following issue: Does Penal Code section 3051, subdivision (h), violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by excluding young adults sentenced to life without the possibility of parole from youth offender parole consideration, while young adults sentenced to parole-eligible terms are entitled to such consideration? (2) The Court of Appeal also rejected Ngo’s argument that he was entitled to a Franklin hearing because he potentially could be resentenced under Penal Code section 1172.1 because any potential resentencing would be speculative.]

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