Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Court Rejects Eighth Amendment Challenge to Teen’s Life Sentence
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A prison sentence of 30 years to life for a defendant who was a juvenile at the time of the crime did not violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The court Monday certified for publication its Feb. 4 opinion affirming Javier Enrique Perez’s convictions and sentence on charges of sexual penetration of a child with a foreign object and committing a lewd act upon a child.
The crimes occurred in 2008, when Perez was 16 and the victims nine and eight years old. Perez received consecutive sentences of 15 years to life under the One Strike Law.
‘Substantial Life Expectancy’
Justice William Bedsworth, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the sentence was not excessive, because it will allow Perez’s release on parole while he still has a “substantial life expectancy,” and because the crimes involved “extreme callousness.”
Prosecutors said Perez forced the younger boy, identified only as Andy, to help him penetrate the older boy, Mario, using a toy light saber. Perez was a friend of Andy’s older brother, who was supposed to be watching the boys in the evening after Mario’s mother dropped him off on her way to work.
Orange Superior Court Judge James Rogan imposed the sentences required by the One Strike Law, based on the jury’s findings that the crimes were accomplished by means of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate bodily injury.
The defense argued on appeal that given the defendant’s age, the sentence violated the Eighth Amendment as interpreted in Graham v. Florida (2010) 130 S.Ct. 2011 and Miller v. Alabama (2012) 132 S.Ct. 2455.
Graham struck down a life sentence without possibility of parole for a juvenile convicted of burglary and attempted armed robbery. The justices ruled that while such a sentence would pass constitutional muster in a homicide case, there was no legitimate basis for it when the crime did not involve loss of life.
Miller extended Graham’s reasoning to hold that a law mandating life without parole sentences for juveniles in homicide cases violates the Eighth Amendment.
Those cases and California cases that have followed, Bedsworth said, “follow a remarkably consistent pattern” and do not support Perez’s position.
“There is a bright line between [life sentences without the possibility of parole] and long sentences with eligibility for parole if there is some meaningful life expectancy left when the offender becomes eligible for parole,” the justice explained. Since Perez will be eligible for parole at age 47, the justice reasoned, the sentence does not mean that he will necessarily spend the rest of his meaningful life in prison.
“How much life expectancy must remain at the time of eligibility for parole of course remains a matter for future judicial development, but we can safely say that in the case before us there is plenty of time left for Perez to demonstrate, as the Graham court put it, ‘some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation,’” Bedsworth wrote.
The justice went on to reject the argument that the sentence was excessive under the state Constitution, as interpreted in People v. Dillon (1983) 34 Cal.3d 441 and In re Lynch (1972) 8 Cal.3d 410. Those cases require the court to consider the circumstances of the specific crime and the offender, and the types of sentences imposed for similar crimes in other jurisdictions, before a life sentence may be imposed on a minor.
“Successful challenges based on the traditional Lynch-Dillon line are extremely rare,” the justice noted. In this case, he said, the sentence was justified because the crime was “horrendous”; the defendant showed no remorse, claiming that Mario enjoyed the act; Perez had a previous record, including two auto thefts and the shooting of another teenager with a BB gun; and there was no showing that another jurisdiction would have treated the case with greater leniency.
The case is People v. Perez, 13 S.O.S. 1093.
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