Stealing Marijuana Plants In California
In People v. Dillon (1983) 34 Cal.3d 441, a 17-year-old high school student with no criminal record hoped to quietly steal some marijuana plants from a field. (34 Cal.3d at p. 486.)
He was not quiet enough, however, and an armed guard protecting the plants caught him. ( Id. at p. 482.) Panicking, the minor shot and killed the guard. ( Id. at p. 452.)
Reluctantly applying felony-murder principles, the jury convicted him of first degree murder. ( Id. at pp. 484-485.) the court thereafter reluctantly sentenced him to life in state prison, despite his pronounced intellectual, emotional, and social immaturity. ( Id. at p. 483.)
On appeal, the Supreme Court found the sentence was disproportionate to his culpability and reduced his conviction to second degree murder. the state Supreme Court refined the first prong of the Lynch analysis. In examining the nature of the offense, a court should consider, "not only the offense in the abstract . . . but also . . . the totality of the circumstances . . . including such factors as its motive, the way it was committed, the extent of the defendant's involvement, and the consequences of his acts." Dillon, supra, 34 Cal.3d at page 479; see also People v. Thongvilay (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 71, 87-88; People v. Ayon (1996) 46 Cal.App.4th 385, 398 (Ayon), disapproved on other grounds in People v. Deloza (1998) 18 Cal.4th 585, 600, footnote 10.
In considering the nature of the offender, a court should consider "whether the punishment is grossly disproportionate to the defendant's individual culpability as shown by such factors as his age, prior criminality, personal characteristics, and state of mind." Dillon, supra, 34 Cal.3d at page 479.
In People v. Dillon (1983) the California Supreme Court reaffirmed In re Lynch and concluded that under the facts of that case, the life imprisonment of a 17-year-old defendant for first degree murder based on a felony-murder theory violated California's constitutional prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment. ( People v. Dillon, supra, 34 Cal.3d at pp. 450-452, 477, 482-483, 489.)
The court in so deciding refined the first Lynch prong, stating trial and reviewing courts should examine "not only the offense in the abstract," but also "'the facts of the crime in question." ( Id. at p. 479.)
Courts should consider "the totality of the circumstances" including motive, the way the crime was committed, the extent of the defendant's involvement, and the consequences of the defendant's acts. (Ibid.)
With respect to the nature of the offender, a court should ask whether "the punishment is grossly disproportionate to the defendant's individual culpability as shown by such factors as his age, prior criminality, personal characteristics, and state of mind." (Ibid.)