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Criminal Defense Attorneys

Can Prop 57 Apply if Defendant Resentenced on Appeal?

Yes is the answer to the question posed by the article title above, but to appreciate this answer correctly, one should read the following summary of a recent appellate decision.

In October 2003, Stephen Martinez Lopez, then 17, was involved in a shooting that left one person dead.

In 2009, he was tried in Contra Costa adult court and, after a jury trial, convicted of first-degree murder (Penal Code § 187(a)), shooting at an inhabited dwelling (Penal Code § 246), three counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm (Penal Code § 245(b)), and shooting from a motor vehicle (former Penal Code § 12034(c)).  All the charges were accompanied by various enhancements.

The trial court judge sentenced him to 60 years to life in state prison on the murder count and a concurrent determinate sentence of 45 years on the assault counts, with sentenced on the other counts stayed. 

Mr. Lopez appealed and the appellate panel struck a gang-enhancement connected to the murder count, thereby decreasing his indeterminate 60 years to life sentence to 50 years to life, but otherwise affirmed the judgment.

In 2016, the electorate approved Proposition 57 (“Prop 57”) to change the law on direct filing of criminal cases against juveniles in adult court.  Prop 57 eliminated a prosecutor’s ability to directly file against minors in criminal court.  After Prop 57, in a case where the prosecution prefers to prosecute a juvenile in adult court, the juvenile court judge must first conduct a “transfer hearing” to determine whether a case should stay in juvenile court or be transferred to adult court for prosecution there.  The juvenile court judge must consider many factors, including but not limited to, “’the minor’s maturity, degree of criminal sophistication, prior delinquent history and whether or not the minor can be rehabilitated.”  People v. Superior Court (Lara) (2018) 4 Cal.5th 299, 305.

In August 2018, the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) recommended that the court reconsider Lopez’s sentence under Penal Code § 1170(d)(1) in light of People v. Le (2015) 61 Cal.4th 416, wherein the California Supreme Court held that Penal Code § 1170.1(f) was violated when defendant faced a sentence enhancement for being armed with or using a deadly or dangerous weapon under Penal Code § 12022.5(a)(1), the same act could not also be used to also elevate a crime to a “violent felony” under Penal Code § 186.22(b)(1)(C) for purposes of a ten-year gang enhancement.  In Lopez’s case, his sentence was enhanced in violation of 1170.1(d)(1), as interpreted by Le, because he received the 12022.5(a)(1) sentence enhancement and the gang enhancement (not on the murder charge, but on the other charges).

However, before the judge could resentence Lopez under Le, Lopez moved to remand the case to juvenile court for a transfer hearing under Lara’s interpretation of Prop 57.

The trial court judge denied the motion for remand, ruling that Prop 57 did not apply to a defendant whose sentence was already final (Lopez’s sentence was final in 2010) even if defendant was later resentenced under Penal Code § 1170(d)(1).  The trial court then resentenced Lopez on the assault charges under Le.

Lopez appealed the denial of his motion for remand.  The First Appellate District Court of Appeal in San Francisco agreed with Lopez that resentencing, even if under § 1170(d)(1) meant that Lopez’s original sentence was void, so it was no longer final and the bar against retroactive application of Prop 57 under Lara did not apply.  The First District cited to People v. Padilla (2020) 50 Cal.App.5th 244, wherein such a remand was allowed after Padilla successfully petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus. 

The First District acknowledged People v. Federico (2020) 50 Cal.App.5th 318, which reached an opposite ruling when defendant was resentenced under Penal Code § 1170(d)(1), but explained that it believed Federico was wrongly decided.

While we applaud the First Appellate District for its ruling in Lopez, we suspect that the transfer hearing will result in the case being transferred to adult court due to the Lara factors making Lopez’s case serious enough for adult court.  It is a pyrrhic victory of sorts for Lopez.

For more information about whether Prop 57’s prohibition on direct filing juvenile cases in adult court is retroactive, please read the following articles:

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