When our client was nineteen years old, he and another teenage friend beat up and robbed another teenager in a parking structure at the Promenade shopping mall in Rolling Hills Estates. A video of the beating and robbery was posted on YouTube and the local news media interviewed the mother of the victim, who claimed her son was autistic, but this was a complete lie.
Our client took the victim’s Vans shoes, valued at $130, and an I-phone valued at about $600. His mother discovered the items the next day and confronted our client about the items. Our client told a lie to his mother about how he got the items, but the mom returned the items to the Lomita Sheriff’s and the Lomita Sheriffs quickly knew who the items truly belonged to and our client was arrested for the fight. Our client’s friend was also arrested shortly thereafter.
The two friends faced robbery (Penal Code § 211) and felony assault by means likely to cause great bodily injury (Penal Code § 245(a)(4)) charges in the Torrance Superior Court.
After more than two years of litigation, including a preliminary hearing covered on the local news channel on television and local radio (most likely due to the allegation of an allegedly autistic victim and the YouTube video played on TV), our client entered into a plea bargain to a charge of robbery. The agreement was that our client would be placed on two years of formal probation with an obligation to attend 26 anger management classes and perform 60 days (480 hours) of community labor through PAWS (Probation Alternative Work Services), obey all laws and agree to search and seizure upon request from any law enforcement officer.
When our client was first placed on probation, the court set a progress hearing 90 days in the future to check on his progress with anger management classes and community labor. At this hearing, our client reported he had not attended a single anger management class and performed not even one hour of community labor. The judge was outraged and sternly lectured him about how if he did not comply with the terms of probation, he faced state prison for a term of two, three or five years in state prison. Our client stated he understood the consequences.
After another three months the judge held a further progress hearing and our client again reported having done no anger management classes and had performed no community labor.
In astonished anger, the judge revoked probation and sternly told him he had 30 days to complete at least ten days of PAWS labor and attend at least four anger management classes.
At the next hearing, our client appeared in court, having attended three online anger management courses through a person marketing himself as an online anger therapist. Our client also again showed he had done no community labor.
The judge then revoked probation and remanded the client to county jail, putting over sentencing for Greg Hill to prepare and submit a brief on sentencing.
While in jail, our client applied for a residential drug treatment program, as his abuse of alcohol and marijuana (and sometimes other harder drugs) was a factor in his low motivation. The program accepted him after a long application process.
Greg then prepared a sentencing brief for the judge, explaining our client’s abysmal progress on probation as related to low self-esteem and low motivation caused by abuse of marijuana and alcohol, as well as a difficult childhood being adopted and raised in a hyper-competitive school district with a single parent.
The brief first evaluated the aggravating and mitigating factors of the violation under California Rules of Court, Rule 4.414, and then requested that the client’s probation be modified to include an order that he complete the residential drug treatment program lasting up to one year and then, upon completion, be reevaluated for additional terms of probation.
The brief also discussed, in case the judge was inclined to sentence our client to state prison, two new sentencing laws that became effective January 1, 2022. First, Assembly Bill 567, while possibly not applicable to a probation violation, nonetheless guides a judge in sentencing and prohibits a judge from imposing the upper term of a sentencing triad unless there are aggravating circumstances stipulated to by the defense or found true by the judge (or jury). Here, there did not appear to be any aggravating circumstances such as the use of a firearm or a strike offense committed as the violation.
Likewise, the brief asked the judge to consider Assembly Bill (AB) 124, which amended Penal Code § 1170 to state that, in sentencing a defendant, unless a judge finds that the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances, the court shall impose the lower term of imprisonment if the following was a contributing factor in the commission of the offense: “(A) The person has experienced psychological, physical, or childhood trauma, including, but not limited to, abuse, neglect, exploitation or sexual violence.” Here, our client certainly experienced childhood trauma in being adopted and then raised in a neighborhood with exceedingly high academic and athletic standards that he was simply not capable of meeting.
The judge read the sentencing brief and agreed to modify probation to order our client to complete the residential drug treatment program. This was a significantly lucky break for our client, who was given probation when he perhaps did not deserve it from the outset (the beating was violent and long-lasting), but then did almost nothing in compliance for almost a year.
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