Wednesday, January 20, 2021

People v. Moseley (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 20, 2021)

A 17-year old gets convicted of forcible rape and is sentenced to 66 years to life in prison.  That sentence means he's not even eligible for parole until he's 73 years old, at which point he'd have little (if any) life expectancy.  Further, while Section 3051 of the Penal Code, passed in 2013, grants parole eligibility for anyone under 25 years old once they've served a quarter century in prison, that statute doesn't apply to people like Mr. Moseley convicted of various violent sex offenses -- even though it does apply to people 25 years old (or younger) who commit first degree murder.

Mr. Moseley files a habeas petition claiming that it's unconstitutional to definitively keep him in prison (with no possibility of parole) until he's 73, especially since similarly-situated first degree murderers get parole eligibility after 25 years.  The District Attorney confesses error and agrees, and the trial court grants the petition.  Which is perhaps not surprising given what the California Supreme Court has said on this issue, which (as today's opinion explains) is this:

"Citing Graham v. Florida (2010) 560 U.S. 48 (Graham), the court in Contreras noted that while “‘[r]ecidivism is a serious risk to public safety, and so incapacitation is an important goal’ . . . [b]ut the ‘characteristics of juveniles’ make it ‘questionable’ to conclude that a juvenile offender is incorrigible; indeed, ‘“incorrigibility is inconsistent with youth.”’” (Contreras, at p. 366.) The court noted that the statute’s distinction between one strike defendants and those convicted of intentional first degree murder appeared inconsistent with United States Supreme Court constitutional jurisprudence: “[W]e note defendants’ contention that the current treatment of juvenile One Strike offenders is anomalous given that juveniles convicted of special circumstance murder and sentenced to LWOP5 are now eligible for parole during their 25th year in prison. This scheme appears at odds with the [United States Supreme Court’s] observation that ‘defendants who do not kill, intend to kill, or foresee that life will be taken are categorically less deserving of the most serious forms of punishment than are murderers. . . . Although an offense like robbery or rape is “a serious crime deserving serious punishment,” those crimes differ from homicide crimes in a moral sense.’ [Citation.] In the death penalty context, the high court has said ‘there is a distinction between intentional first-degree murder on the one hand and nonhomicide crimes against individual persons, even including child rape, on the other. The latter crimes may be devastating in their harm, as here, but “in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public,” they cannot be compared to murder in their “severity and irrevocability.”’” (Id. at p. 382, quoting Graham, supra, 560 U.S. at p. 69 and Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008) 554 U.S. 407, 438.)

The court in Contreras went on to state: “The parties point to no other provision of our Penal Code, and we are aware of none, that treats a nonhomicide offense more harshly than special circumstance murder. . . . We are also unaware of any other jurisdiction that punishes juveniles for aggravated rape offenses more severely than for the most aggravated forms of murder. Further, we note the concern raised by amicus curiae . . . that if defendants had killed their victims after the sexual assaults and had been sentenced to LWOP, they would have been eligible for a youth offender parole hearing after 25 years of incarceration . . . . [¶] Defendants contend that this treatment of juvenile One Strike offenders violates principles of equal protection and the Eighth Amendment. There is also a colorable claim that it constitutes ‘unusual punishment’ within the meaning of article I, section 17 of the California Constitution. As with the other issues arising from new legislation, we decline to resolve these contentions here. It suffices to note . . . that the current penal scheme for juveniles may warrant additional legislative attention.” (Contreras, supra, 4 Cal.5th at p. 382.)"

Sounds like the California Supreme Court's likely to grant relief for juvenile offenders like Mr. Moseley, no?  Which, again, is why the trial court granted the habeas petition.

Nevertheless, today, the Court of Appeal reverses.  In a split opinion, the majority concludes that there's a rational basis for giving parole eligibility for first-degree murderers after 25 years while at the same time denying that same relief for "one-strike" juvenile rapists like Mr. Moseley.

We'll see what the California Supreme Court does with this one.

Justice Chavez authors the majority opinion.  She says a lot of different things in her opinion, but especially given what the California Supreme Court said, I was waiting for her to answer the not-so-hypothetical that opinion mentioned.  So if Mr. Moseley had raped and then killed his victims, and was found guilty of first degree murder, he'd be eligible for parole in 25 years, but not if he leaves 'em alive?

Seems definitively irrational, no?  As well as not exactly the incentive effect we're looking to create.