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Prop 57 Juvenile Fitness Hearing After Habeas Corpus

In 1998, when Mario Salvador Padilla was sixteen years old, he stabbed his mother 45 times, causing her death, and conspired with a cousin to also kill his stepfather.  The plan included stealing money from the mother and stepfather, money that was intended for his newborn stepsister.

Before his mother died from her wounds, she identified her son as her attacker.  Mr. Padilla was arrested the same day.

The case against Padilla was filed in the Compton Superior Court, following a hearing in which “he was determined not fit to be dealt with under juvenile court law.”  The following year, he was convicted of the first degree murder (Penal Code §§ 187(a), 189) of his mother and conspiracy (Penal Code § 182) to kill his stepfather.  A robbery-murder special circumstance was found true and he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). 

His conviction and sentence became final in 2001 when the Supreme Court of the State of California denied his petition for review of the Court of Appeals judgement and he did not petition for a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Eleven years later, in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama (2012) 567 U.S. 460 that “mandatory life without parole [LWOP] for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eight Amendment’s prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’”  Id., at 465.  The U.S. Supreme Court added that “although we do not foreclose a sentencer’s ability to make that judgment in homicide cases, we require it take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.”  Id., at 480.

In 2014, Mr. Padilla filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus based on Miller.  His petition did not contest his guilt or his being tried as an adult.  It only addressed the LWOP sentence.

The court granted the petition, vacating his sentence and held a hearing in compliance with Miller, but again imposed an LWOP sentence.  Padilla appealed again and while his appeal was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Montgomery v. Alabama (2016) 577 U.S. 190, clarifying the analysis that a court must perform under Miller, cautioning that an LWOP sentence should only be imposed in the rarest of cases.

The appellate court therefore remanded Padilla’s case once again back to the trial court and the trial court (Judge Ricardo R. Ocampo) in Compton, after again evaluating the mitigating factors of Padilla’s youth as required by Miller and Montgomery, again imposed an LWOP sentence (for the third time).

About two weeks after Padilla’s second sentence was vacated, California voters approved Proposition 57 (“Prop 57”).  As relevant to Padilla’s case, Prop 57 mandated that every criminal matter involving a crime committed by a person at the time who is under 18 must be filed in juvenile court, where punishment is typically less severe than in adult court.  Once filed in juvenile court, the prosecution can make a motion to transfer the case to adult court.

Mr. Padilla again appealed before his sentence was final, arguing that under Proposition 57, he was entitled to having his case refiled in juvenile court, although then subject to a transfer hearing.

The Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District agreed and remanded his case to the juvenile court in Compton.  The Attorney General appealed this ruling to the California Supreme Court, which then affirmed the trial court.

The California Supreme Court first tackled the issue of whether Prop 57 was retroactive because it was a new law that ameliorated or mitigated punishment (see In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal. 2d 740 and People v. Superior Court (Lara) (2018) 4 Cal. 5th 299, 306 – 307).  After all, it did not directly do so because the juvenile filing procedures has no direct effect on punishment.  However, the California Supreme Court ruled that Prop 57 was retroactive to non-final sentences such as Padilla’s sentence.

Our expectation is that the juvenile court judge assigned to Padilla’s case will grant the motion to transfer Padilla’s case to adult court and the matter will again resolve with an LWOP sentence.

For more information about juvenile fitness hearing as permitted under Prop 57, please click on the following articles:
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