The youth parole hearing provided by Penal Code section 3051 renders a juvenile’s de facto life sentence for nonhomicide crimes constitutional. When he was 16 years old, Scott, while riding in his friend’s car, shot at three youths, seriously injuring one of them. He was convicted of three counts of attempted murder (Pen. Code, §§ 664, subd. (a), 187), gun use (Pen. Code, § 12022.53, subds. (d) & (e)) and other offenses/enhancements. He was sentenced to 120 years to life. In a writ petition, he claimed the sentence was cruel and unusual punishment. While his petition was pending, the Legislature enacted Penal Code section 3051 and the trial court accepted the prosecution’s argument that its parole provisions mooted Scott’s argument. He appealed. Held: Affirmed; limited remand ordered. In Graham v. Florida (2010) 560 U.S. 48, the court held an LWOP sentence imposed on a juvenile convicted of a nonhomicide offense violates the Eighth Amendment. In Miller v. Alabama (2012) 132 S.Ct. 2455, the court extended this view to a sentencing scheme that mandates LWOP for juveniles convicted of homicide. In People v. Caballero (2012) 55 Cal.4th 262, the California Supreme Court determined a term of years that exceeded a juvenile offender’s life expectancy (a defacto LWOP sentence) was cruel and unusual punishment. Under Graham and Caballero, the State must consider the distinctive characteristics of youth in sentencing and must give juvenile offenders a meaningful opportunity to obtain release within their lifetime based on demonstrated maturity and reform. Penal Code section 3051, subdivision (e) requires the youth offender parole board to provide an opportunity for most juvenile offenders to obtain a parole hearing within their expected lifetimes and therefore renders constitutional a defacto LWOP sentence imposed upon a juvenile for a nonhomicide offense.
Even though his sentence is constitutional, a limited remand is required so the juvenile offender may place on the record the types of information relevant to a youth offender parole hearing. In response to Graham, Miller, and Caballero, the Legislature passed Senate Bill No. 260 (effective January 1, 2014), which created Penal Code sections 3051, 3046, subdivision (c), and 4801, subdivision (c). These sections provide a parole mechanism for juvenile offenders who receive lengthy terms and require the Board of Parole Hearings to conduct a youth offender parole hearing during the 15th, 20th or 25th year of a defendant’s incarceration depending on the controlling offense. There are several categories of offenders who are excluded from these provisions, but this does not apply to Scott. In People v. Franklin (2016) 63 Cal.4th 261, the court concluded the juvenile offender’s constitutional challenges to his sentence had been mooted by the enactment of sections 3051 and 4801, because the defendant might obtain release after serving 25 years of imprisonment. However, the court remanded the matter to allow the defendant to make a record of the kind of information that sections 3051 and 4801 deem relevant to a youth offender parole hearing. Similarly, Scott’s case must be remanded to allow him to make such a record.
The full opinion is on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/E060028A.PDF