When a judgment becomes final, but is later vacated, altered, or amended and a new sentence imposed, is the case no longer final for the purpose of applying an intervening ameliorative change in the law?
Proposition 57 applies to juvenile offender’s resentencing because his judgment became nonfinal when his original sentence was vacated during habeas proceedings and his case was returned to the trial court for resentencing. In 1998, when Padilla was 16 years old, he stabbed his mother to death and conspired to kill his stepfather. Following a fitness hearing, he was transferred to adult court, where he was convicted of multiple offenses and sentenced to LWOP. Years later, Padilla filed a habeas petition seeking resentencing based on Miller v. Alabama (2012) 567 U.S. 460. The trial court vacated Padilla’s original sentence to reconsider it in light of Miller. Following an appeal after Padilla’s first resentencing, the trial court ultimately imposed an LWOP sentence again at Padilla’s second resentencing. Padilla appealed, arguing that he was entitled to a transfer hearing under Proposition 57 (which California voters approved while Padilla was awaiting his second resentencing) because his case became nonfinal once his sentence was vacated. The Court of Appeal agreed. The California Supreme Court granted review to consider whether Proposition 57 applies in this situation. Held: Affirmed. In People v. Superior Court (Lara) (2018) 4 Cal.5th 299, the court held that the juvenile provisions of Proposition 57 apply to all juveniles charged directly in adult court whose judgment was not final at the time Proposition 57 was enacted. Here, the Supreme Court concluded Padilla’s judgment was not final after analyzing relevant case law. “When Padilla’s sentence was vacated, the trial court regained the jurisdiction and duty to consider what punishment was appropriate for him, and Padilla regained the right to appeal whatever new sentence was imposed. His judgment thus became nonfinal, and it remains nonfinal in its present posture because the Court of Appeal ordered a second resentencing, from which the Attorney General now appeals.” Although Padilla received a fitness hearing under prior law (not direct-filing in adult court), the transfer hearing provided by Proposition 57 is also ameliorative and applies in nonfinal cases. [Editor’s Note: A significant portion of the majority opinion responds to a lengthy dissenting opinion. The dissent interpreted In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal.2d 740 and its progeny differently, concluding Padilla’s judgment remains final despite the collateral habeas proceedings. In the dissent’s view, Padilla’s full, direct review ended in 2001 when the Supreme Court denied his petition for review, and he did not seek a writ of certiorari before the United States Supreme Court. “Even assuming the trial court vacated defendant’s LWOP sentence before then reimposing that same term after consideration of the [Miller] factors outlined by the high court, no portion of Padilla’s sentence or conviction was overturned or rendered invalid.”]
This case was decided on May 26, 2022. Justice Liu authored the majority opinion, in which Justices Kruger, Groban, and Jenkins concurred. Justice Corrigan filed a dissenting opinion in which Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye and Justice Perren (Associate Justice of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Six, assigned by the Chief Justice) concurred.