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Not-Quite-18 Murderers in California

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The California Court of Appeal for the Fifth District (Fresno) yesterday decided People v. Marquez, F070609.
Defendant Victor Alexander Marquez was just four months shy of his 18th birthday when he brutally murdered Maria Juarez by stabbing and slashing her 19 times during an attempted robbery. Judge Gerald F. Sevier presided over defendant's trial and sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for special circumstance murder. While defendant's original appeal was pending, the United States Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama (2012) 567 U.S. 460 (Miller). Miller held that mandatory LWOP sentences for juvenile homicide offenders violated the federal Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In defendant's first appeal, we recognized California does not provide for mandatory LWOP sentences for minors convicted of murder, and the sentencing court understood this aspect of its statutory sentencing discretion. Nevertheless, we reversed the judgment and remanded the matter to the trial court to reconsider defendant's LWOP sentence after applying the individualized sentencing criteria set forth in Miller. (People v. Marquez (June 25, 2013, F063837) [nonpub. opn.].)

Judge Gary L. Paden conducted the resentencing hearing. After considering the Miller criteria, Judge Paden again imposed an LWOP sentence. Defendant contends the trial court misapplied the Miller criteria and argues his sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In supplemental briefing, defendant contends Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 (Proposition 57) passed by the voters on November 8, 2016, applies retroactively to his case. Defendant argues the initiative ended the practice employed here of allowing the prosecutor to directly file a case involving a juvenile offender in adult criminal court rather than first conducting a suitability hearing as now required by the amended provisions of the Welfare and Institutions Code. As we explain in the unpublished portion of this opinion, the trial court properly evaluated the Miller criteria. In the published portion, we conclude the suitability hearing provisions of Proposition 57 are not retroactive.
Retroactivity of the charging provisions of Proposition 57 would be a disaster.  Cases that were fully and fairly adjudicated under then-existing law would have to be retried.  Absent a clear provision in the initiative itself requiring such retroactivity -- and there is none -- this change should be prospective only.

2 Comments

I agree with the court: The suitability hearing provisions of Prop. 57 aren't retroactive. But even if they were would it be a disaster? Couldn't the hearing be conducted without automatically disturbing the conviction? If the court determines (albeit after the conviction) that the defendant would have been unsuitable for the juvenile justice system, the conviction stands.

What am I missing?

I think I determined what I was missing.

I see the disaster in having to conduct thousands of fitness hearings for convicted defendants whose cases were directly filed by the DA prior to Prop. 57.

Sorry about my brain fart.

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