16-year-old Juvenile Attempted Murder Conviction in California

In People v. Caballero (2012) 55 Cal.4th 262, the California Supreme Court considered the sentence for a 16-year-old juvenile who had fired a gun at three members of a rival gang. Two of the victims were unhurt; the third was injured but survived. The defendant was convicted of three counts of attempted murder, plus enhancements for personal discharge of a firearm, gang enhancements, and a great bodily injury enhancement as to one victim. He received a sentence of 15 years to life for the first attempted murder, plus 25 years to life for the firearm enhancement. He was sentenced to a consecutive term of 15 years to life for the second attempted murder count, plus 20 years for the firearm enhancement. He was sentenced to another consecutive term of 15 years to life on the third attempted murder count, plus 20 years for the firearm enhancement. Thus, the defendant's total term was 110 years to life. (Id. at p. 265.) The California Supreme Court determined that the sentence of 110 years to life was the functional equivalent of an LWOP sentence, and was governed by Graham's ban on LWOP sentences for juveniles in nonhomicide cases. (Caballero, supra, 55 Cal.4th at pp. 267, fn. 3, 268.) The defendant would become parole eligible only after serving 110 years according to section 3046, subdivision (b). (Caballero, supra, at p. 268.) The Caballero court explained that "Graham's analysis does not focus on the precise sentence meted out. Instead . . . it holds that a state must provide a juvenile offender 'with some realistic opportunity to obtain release' from prison during his or her expected lifetime." (Ibid.) The Supreme Court concluded that "sentencing a juvenile offender for a nonhomicide offense to a term of years with a parole eligibility date that falls outside the juvenile offender's natural life expectancy constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Although proper authorities may later determine that youths should remain incarcerated for their natural lives, the state may not deprive them at sentencing of a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate their rehabilitation and fitness to reenter society in the future. Under Graham's nonhomicide ruling, the sentencing court must consider all mitigating circumstances attendant in the juvenile's crime and life, including but not limited to his or her chronological age at the time of the crime, whether the juvenile offender was a direct perpetrator or an aider and abettor, and his or her physical and mental development, so that it can impose a time when the juvenile offender will be able to seek parole from the parole board." (Id. at pp.268-269.) The court ordered that juvenile offenders who had received LWOP or de facto equivalent sentences for nonhomicide crimes would be eligible to petition for writs of habeas corpus, "in order to allow the trial court to weigh the mitigating evidence in determining the extent of incarceration required before parole hearings. Because every case will be different, we will not provide trial courts with a precise timeframe for setting these future parole hearings in a nonhomicide case. However, the sentence must not violate the defendant's Eighth Amendment rights and must provide him or her a 'meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation' under Graham's mandate." (Id. at p. 269.) In sum, Caballero applied Graham, and concluded that since the Eighth Amendment categorically bans a term of life without parole for a juvenile who did not commit a homicide it categorically bans the functional equivalent of a term of life without parole. (Caballero, supra, 55 cal.4th at p. 268.) Finally, we note that in People v. Gutierrez (2014) 58 Cal.4th 1354 a case involving life without parole for special circumstance murder, a homicide offense, the California Supreme Court found that California's special circumstance law, section 190.5, subdivision (b), does not violate the Eighth Amendment because it does not impose a mandatory sentence of life without parole, neither does it create a presumption of life without parole. (Gutierrez, supra, at pp. 1360-1361.) In Gutierrez, the California Supreme Court examined Miller v. Alabama (2012) and stated that "under Miller, a state may authorize its courts to impose life without parole on a juvenile homicide offender when the penalty is discretionary and when the sentencing court's discretion is properly exercised in accordance with Miller." (Id. at p. 1379.) As Gutierrez explained, in a homicide case involving a juvenile offender "the trial court must consider all relevant evidence bearing on the 'distinctive attributes of youth' discussed in Miller and how those attributes 'diminish the penological justifications for imposing the harshest sentences on juvenile offenders.' To be sure, not every factor will necessarily be relevant in every case. . . . But Miller 'requires the sentencer to take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.'" (Id. at p. 1390.) Gutierrez examined the issue of how Miller impacted the constitutionality of section 190.5, subdivision (b), which provides that the penalty for 16-or 17-year-old juveniles who commit special circumstance murder "shall be confinement in the state prison for life without the possibility of parole or, at the discretion of the court, 25 years to life," and which had been interpreted as creating a presumption in favor of a sentence of life without parole. (Gutierrez, supra, 58 Cal.4th at p. 1369, quoting 190.5. subd. (b).) Gutierrez concluded that the statute should not be interpreted to create a presumption of a life sentence without parole and that a sentencing court should instead conduct the analysis described in Miller in deciding what sentence to impose on a juvenile offender sentenced under section 190.5, subdivision (b). (Gutierrez, supra, at pp. 1360-1361.)