Court of Appeal:
Rothschild Says Statutory Exclusion of ‘One Strike’ Inmate From Benefit of Youthful Offender Parole Hearing in 25th Year of Incarceration Denies Equal Protection; Bendix Dissents, Citing Sex-Offender Recidivism
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A man who committed a rape-at-knifepoint in 1998 at the age of 19 and was sentenced under the “One-Strike Law” and sentenced to what was essentially a life term is entitled, despite the statutory command to the contrary, to a youth offender parole hearing, Div. One of the Court of Appeal for this district held Friday, drawing a dissent from a justice who sided with contrary decisions from other panels.
Presiding Justice Frances Rothschild wrote the opinion granting writ relief to rapist Andre Lamont Woods. Justice Victoria Chaney joined in that opinion and Justice Helen I. Bendix dissented.
“We agree with Woods that [Penal Code] section 3051, subdivision (h), which excludes One Strike offenders from the procedures for youth offender parole hearings, violates his right to equal protection of the laws because such procedures are generally available to similarly situated offenders and no rational basis exists to deny them to One Strike offenders,” Rothschild wrote. “He is therefore entitled to a youth offender parole hearing during his 25th year of incarceration.”
Eighth Amendment Argument
Having so determined, the presiding justice did not reach Woods’s contention that a sentence of 82 years and four months to life constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Rothschild recited that under §3051, an inmate whose “controlling offense”—in Woods’s case, forcible rape—“was committed when the person was 25 years of age or younger and for which the sentence is a...term of 25 years to life” is generally entitled to a youth offender parole hearing.” Woods, she noted, was sentenced for forcible rape to a term of 25 years to life, and would be eligible for such a hearing but for an exception for those who have committed specified sex crimes
(He was also sentenced on five counts of forcible oral copulation. The One Strike Law, Penal Code §667.61, providing for enhanced penalties for sex offenders under specified circumstances, was rendered applicable based on the jury’s finding that Woods’s kidnapping of the victim increased the risk of harm to her “over and above that level of risk necessarily inherent in the underlying offense.”)
Woods argued that it makes no sense to accord a parole hearing to those who commit murder at a young age but not to youthful rapists. Rothschild agreed, saying:
“[D]enying parole eligibility tor One Strike offenders with de facto LWOP terms, such as Woods, is contrary to the United States Supreme Court’s and California Supreme Court’s evaluations that nonhomicide crimes, no matter how heinous, are less deserving of the most serious forms of punishment than first degree murder….Granting youth offender parole hearings to first degree murderers while denying them to One Strike offenders, implies the opposite—that the first degree murderer is more deserving of that opportunity than the One Strike offender.”
Rejecting the notion that a distinction is rational because sex offenders are particularly apt to commit new crimes of the same nature, Rothschild quoted from the April 10, 2019 opinion of the First District’s Div. Four in People v. Edwards as saying that while “violent rapists do recidivate,” equal protection is offended because “murderers, too, recidivate, and the state has an interest in severely punishing the crime of murder.”
Incentive to Kill
“[W]e note that providing early parole consideration to youthful murders but denying it to youthful One Strike offenders, creates an incentive for the rapist to kill his victim….Surely, the legislature cannot have intended to create such a perverse incentive.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Judith L. Meyer had denied Woods’s request for a parole hearing based on the statutory prohibition; Div. One in 2019 denied a petition for a writ of habeas corpus; the California Supreme Court granted review and remanded the case with directions to issue an order to show cause why Woods should not be granted relief; it did, and on Friday granted the petition. The court instructed:
“The matter is remanded to the superior court in order for it to determine whether Woods has been provided with an adequate opportunity to make a record of information that will be relevant to the parole board…and, if not, to provide that opportunity.”
Bendix expressed agreement with contrary Court of Appeal decisions in People v. Moseley, decided Jan. 20 by this district’s Div. Two, and People v. Miranda, handed down March 18 by Div. Two of the Fourth District.
In Moseley, Justice Victoria M. Chavez, writing for the majority, said “a rational basis exists for treating one strike offenders such as the defendant differently from other youthful offenders entitled to the benefit of” §3051 the statute, explaining:
“Indeed, there are significant public safety concerns that support the exclusion of these sex offenders from youth offender parole consideration, including recidivism.” Justice Michael J. Raphael declared in Miranda that “the Legislature’s decision to make One Strikers ineligible for youth offender parole hearings is rational.” He said “the Legislature appears to have excluded from early parole eligibility those whom it saw as exceptionally likely to reoffend.”
Bendix said that in light of some studies supporting the view that sex offenders are particularly prone to reoffend, “it would not be constitutionally irrational for the Legislature to find support in this social science literature for excluding sex offenders from earlier parole consideration in the interests of public safety.”
The case is People v. Woods, B301891.
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