Tuesday, April 30, 2019
Court of Appeal:
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A superior court lacked jurisdiction to reconsider its grant of a writ of habeas corpus where that action had been upheld on appeal, even though there was a change in law subsequent to the affirmance, the Fourth District held yesterday.
Div. One, in an opinion by Justice Cynthia Aaron, reversed a January 2018 order by San Diego Superior Court Judge Charles G. Rogers vacating his July 2015 order granting habeas corpus relief to Jason A. Berg, who was sentenced in 1997, at the age of 17, to life without possibility of parole (“LWOP”) for committing a first degree murder with special circumstances.
In 2015, Rogers found that Berg was entitled to a resentencing under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama which held that “mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishments.’ ” The decision was affirmed by the Fourth District’s Div. One on May 12, 2016, in an opinion by Aaron.
In 2018, Rogers granted the People’s “Request to Reconsider and Vacate Previous Order” based on legislation that went into effect Jan. 1 providing that a defendant who was sentenced to LWOP before the age of 18 would be entitled to a youth offender parole hearing during his or her 25th year of incarceration. That entitlement, the judge found, obviated a need for him to grant relief.
Supreme Court Decisions
His new order, Aaron said, is void for lack of jurisdiction. She cited the California Supreme Court’s 2001 decision in Griset v. Fair Political Practices Commission.
That case was Griset II. In Griset I, the California Supreme Court in 1994 affirmed a Court of Appeal decision upholding the action of the Orange Superior Court.
The judge redetermined matters decided in Griset I.
Then-Justice Joyce Kennard, now retired, wrote for a unanimous court in saying, quoting Witkin on California Procedure: “An unqualified affirmance ‘ordinarily sustains the judgment and ends the litigation.’ ”
She declared that the new judgment was void “insofar as it encompassed or rested upon a redetermination of the merits of the litigation.”
Applying Griset II
In yesterday’s decision, Aaron wrote:
“After careful consideration of the parties’ supplemental, as well as their principal, briefs, we conclude that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to vacate its prior order granting the petition for writ of habeas corpus based on a change in the law. The People advance no authority or compelling argument for why the controlling principles decided in Griset II do not apply here. Griset II makes clear that a trial court lacks jurisdiction, after an unqualified affirmance, to reconsider the merits of an action, even in the face of a change in the law.”
The Office of Attorney General pointed to the California Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in In re Reno where then-Justice Kathryn Werdegar cited case law that a defendant may raise in a habeas corpus petition contentions that had been rejected on appeal “when there has been a change in the law affecting the petitioner.”
“This exception to the ordinary bar against such relitigation permits a habeas petitioner to file a new proceeding; it does not extend jurisdiction in a concluded proceeding. This distinction is significant, for under the People’s reasoning, the trial court could exercise its jurisdiction indefinitely to reconsider previously final rulings upon a change in the law. A legal action must come to an end at some clear point, and Griset II defines that end point.”
The jurist rejected the Office of Attorney General’s argument that a trial judge has the inherent power to reconsider earlier rulings. A judge has no power in the absence of jurisdiction, she said.
The case is People v. Berg, 2019 S.O.S. 2010.
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