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Youth Offender Parole Hearing & Special Circumstances

As the reader of this article may already be aware, an individual convicted of a controlling offense committed before the person was 18 years old and for which the sentence is life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) is eligible for release on parole at a youth offender parole hearing at the beginning of the 25th year of incarceration.  Penal Code § 3051(b)(4).  This right includes those under eighteen who are convicted of murder with a special-circumstance finding.  Roper v. Simmons (2005) 543 U.S. 551.

Similarly, with several exceptions (including having a prior “strike” on being sentenced to an LWOP sentence), an individual convicted of a controlling offense committed when the person was a young adult, 25 years old or younger, and for which the sentence is an indeterminate state prison term or 25 years to life, including first-degree premeditated murder, is eligible for release on parole at a youth offender parole hearing at the beginning of the 25th year of incarceration. Penal Code § 3051(b)(3).

However, an individual convicted of a controlling offense without the possibility of parole after turning age 18 is not eligible for a youth offender hearing or otherwise eligible for parole consideration.  Penal Code § 3051(h).

In 1990, Tony Hardin was convicted in Los Angeles Superior Court of special-circumstance first-degree felony murder for a crime he committed when he was 25 years old and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).  He killed his neighbor Norma Baber while stealing jewelry and other items from her apartment and car. 

In August 2021, Mr. Hardin, representing himself, filed a motion to augment his file under People v. Franklin (2016) 63 Cal. 4th 261 and In re Cook (2019) 7 Cal. 5th 439, to assemble information concerning youth-related mitigating factors for an eventual youth offender parole hearing.  The judge assigned to hear his motion, Juan C. Dominguez (who our office has appeared before many times), denied the motion, finding that he was statutorily ineligible for such a hearing.

Mr. Hardin then appealed this ruling to the Second Appellate District, contending that the denial of his right to such a parole hearing violated his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment when a 17-year old committed a special-circumstance murder and a young adult age 25 and under who committed a first-degree premeditated murder without a special-circumstance finding are entitled to a youth offender parole hearing.

In other words, given the context of how Miller v. Alabama (2012) 567 U.S. 460 and Graham v. Florida (2010) 560 U.S. 48 have been interpreted by later cases and the California legislature, there was no rational relationship to distinguish the classification or differential treatment between those that had a special-circumstance finding and those that did not have such a finding.

On October 18, 2022, the Second Appellate District agreed with Hardin in People v. Tony Hardin (2022 DJDAR 10837).  
While we applaud this ruling, we understand that this ruling is certainly going to be limited to its facts.  It most likely will not be extrapolated to apply to those convicted of a prior strike offense before their controlling offense who are then convicted of felony murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

The Second Appellate District court explained that viewed in light of Penal Code § 3051’s intended purpose of permitting a determination of whether a person committed a serious or violent crime has sufficiently matured and outgrown the youthful impulses that led to the commission of the offense, individuals convicted with and without a special circumstance finding are similarly situated and there was no rational basis for distinguishing between those groups of offenders.

Therefore, the Second Appellate District reversed the trial court’s denial of Mr. Hardin’s “Franklin motion” and remanded the case with instructions that he be entitled to assemble information concerning his youth-related mitigating factors and to schedule a hearing for setting a deadline by which he must submit such additional material to augment his file for his youth offender parole hearing.

For more information about youth offender parole hearings, please click on the following articles:
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