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Can Rehabilitation in Prison Be 1170.26 Good Cause?

The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012 (Penal Code § 1170.26), passed by California voters as Proposition 36, created a “retroactive relief procedure” for certain inmates serving an indeterminate sentence pursuant to the former Three Strikes Law to request resentencing by filing a petition for recall of sentence within two years of the date of the act “or at a later date upon a showing of good cause.”  People v. Drew (2017) 16 Cal. App. 5th 253, 256.
Summary in 50 Words or Less: A delay caused by a prisoner’s rehabilitation while in prison is not good cause to excuse a late filing of a Motion for Resenting under the Three Strikes Reform Act (Penal Code § 1170.26).
David J. Valencia was convicted, in 1995, of kidnapping (Penal Code § 207(a)).  In 1996, he was convicted of making criminal threats (Penal Code § 422), resisting arrest by threat of violence (Penal Code § 69) and driving under the influence of alcohol (Vehicle Code § 23152(a)).  In 2000, he was convicted of corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant (Penal Code § 273.5).

In addition, between 1987 and 2007, he was convicted of 12 misdemeanors.  Finally, in 2009, he struck his wife during an argument over whether she should drive drunk, causing a laceration on her head that was closed with staples.  He was convicted a second time of corporal injury to a spouse, which qualified as a third strike offense and he was sentenced in Tuolumne County to an indeterminate terms of 25 years to life.

In 2013, Mr. Valencia filed a petition for recall of his sentence under the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012.  The trial court denied the petition on the ground that Mr. Valencia presented an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.

Valencia appealed this ruling to the Fifth Appellate District Court in Fresno.  While his appeal was pending, the California electorate approved Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act (codified at Penal Code § 1170.18),  As the reader may know, it permits a judge to reclassify a limited number of lower-level felonies as misdemeanors (such as certain drug possession and theft offenses) unless the judge finds that doing so would impose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety. 


The definition of how such a risk of danger to public safety was interpreted in Proposition 47 as a risk that defendant would commit a crime known as a “super strike,” i.e., murder, attempted murder, solicitation to commit murder, train wrecking, possession of a weapon of mass destruction or assault upon a police officer with a machine gun.

Valencia therefore argued that the Proposition 47 definition of unreasonable risk to public safety should apply to the court’s evaluation of unreasonable risk to public safety in Prop 36 resentencing as well.  The Fifth Appellate District disagreed and Valencia then took the matter to the California Supreme Court, which affirmed the appellate court in People v. Valencia (2017) 3 Cal. 5th 347, 352, 373-375, 377.

The two-year window for petitioning for recall of a sentence under Prop 36 then closed in November 2014 while Valencia’s first appeal (ultimately going up to the California Supreme Court as described above) was still pending.

Nevertheless, Valencia filed a second petition for recall of his sentence, citing new evidence of his rehabilitation.  The trial court denied the petition, stating that the two-year deadline having expired meant Valencia’s petition was legislatively barred.

Valencia then appealed this ruling to the Fifth Appellate District, arguing that evidence of his rehabilitation in certain programs in prison constituted good cause to excuse the delay and to permit an otherwise time-barred petition for resentencing.

The Fifth Appellate District wrote a very compelling opinion, noting from the outset that the “good cause” exception suggests that not every delay in filing a recall petition is excusable.  Usually, good cause is found where the delay occurred due to circumstances outside the inmate’s control.

Here, Valencia argued that changed rehabilitative circumstances establish good cause to excuse the delay in filing his petition for recall of his sentence.  The appellate court disagreed, noting that in other contexts, i.e., successive parole hearings being scheduled every few years, an inmate will have an opportunity to demonstrate rehabilitative progress. 

In other words, construing Penal Code § 1170.126 to permit successive petitions beyond the limitations period upon a showing of rehabilitative progress “would be tantamount to erasing the limitations period in the statute in all but the most unusual circumstances.”  People v. Drew (2017) 16 Cal. App. 5th 253, 259.  Therefore, the Fifth Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s finding that rehabilitative progress did not qualify as good cause to excuse such a late petition for Mr. Valencia.

The citation for the Fifth Appellate District Court ruling discussed above is People v. David J. Valencia (5th App. Dist., 2021) 64 Cal. App. 5th 641, 279 Cal. Rptr. 3d 153.

For more information about resentencing under the Three Strikes Reform Act (Prop 36), please click on the following articles:
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