PENAL CODE SECTION 1170 MAY OFFER RELIEF TO THOSE JUVENILES CONVICTED TO LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE
I previously discussed the 2012 United States Supreme Court case, Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ___ , wherein the Supreme Court held that mandatory sentencing laws carrying life without parole were unconstitutional for juvenile offenders convicted of committing murder and the subsequent Supreme Court case earlier this year, Montgomery v. Louisiana, making the decision in Miller v. Alabama retroactive. In the same year that the Supreme Court published Miller v. Alabama, the California Legislature enacted a new law in the Penal Code under section 1170, which provides for a petition process to defendants who were under the age of 18 when they committed an offense for which they were sentenced to life without parole. Under this statute, juvenile defendants so sentenced can, after 15 years of their term, petition the sentencing court to resentence the offender.
Now this is law does not fall under the equation outlined in Miller v. Alabama because it does not concern mandatory sentencing but it does address the same reasoning for the Supreme Court’s decision. In Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court recognized the differences between the teenage brain and the adult brain. The majority opinion in the Miller v. Alabama decision recognized the “hallmark features” of the teenager’s conduct, including “immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.”
The author of Penal Code section 1170 stated the same reasoning for the introduction of the bill (SB No. 9 2011-2012), which eventually became section 1170. The bill’s author stated that there was a need for this law because the sentencing of juvenile offenders to life without parole “ignore[d] neuroscience and well-accepted understandings of adolescent development.” The author went on to state that “Youth are different from adults. While they should be held accountable for their actions, even those who commit serious crimes should have the opportunity to prove they have matured and changed.” This language is very similar to the opinions in the Supreme Court cases I already discussed.
Under Penal Code Section 1170, an offender who was under the age of 18 when he or she committed the crime for which the sentence was life in prison without the possibility of parole may petition the sentencing court after serving at least 15 years of the sentence for recall and resentencing. Not all juvenile offenders in California are able to make this petition: An offender who was convicted of a crime wherein the victim was tortured or where the victim was a public safety official, may not avail themselves of the section 1170 petition process.
The petition process begins with the filing of the formal petition which must include a statement from the defendant describing his or her remorse and rehabilitation efforts. The court will review the petition and it is up to the judge to decide whether the petition is worthy of consideration. If the judge decides to move forward on the petition, there will be a hearing before the court. Victims and the family of victims (if the victim is deceased) may participate in the hearing. The court will consider a number of factors and it is not a guarantee that the court will grant the petition. It goes without saying that an offender who has demonstrated that he or she has “turned his/her life around” will have a much better chance that the petition will be granted.
If the court decides to grant the petition, the previous sentence is recalled and the court may resentence the defendant. Now that doesn’t mean the defendant will necessarily get a much lighter sentence; it may only mean that the defendant is sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, but that is the worst case scenario. In the best case scenario, the court will sentence the defendant to 15 years imprisonment with time served. In that case, the defendant will be released from his or her sentence. More likely, and depending on various factors, the court will sentence the defendant to something in between —but in all cases, it must not be greater than the initial sentence.
The Section 1170 petition is a good option for those juvenile offenders who can demonstrate their rehabilitation and who understand and genuinely feel remorse for the crime they committed as a juvenile governed by the immaturity of their developing brain.
William Weinberg has extensive experience defending juveniles and adults in the criminal justice system. If you have any questions concerning a criminal matter, Mr. Weinberg is available to speak with you. You can contact Mr. Weinberg at 949-474-8008 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.