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California Court of Appeal: Superior Courts Must Consider Only Elements of Prior Adjudicated Felony, Not Juvenile’s Conduct for § 1170(d)(2)(B) Purposes

by Douglas Ankney

The California Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District, held that Superior Courts are to consider only the elements of a juvenile’s prior adjudicated felony and not the juvenile’s conduct when considering a petition to recall his sentence under California Penal Code § 1170(d)(2)(B).

David Lee Harring, Jr., is serving life without parole (“LWOP”) for a murder he committed in 1997, when he was under the age of 18. In December, 2018, Harring petitioned the Kern Superior Court for recall and resentencing pursuant to § 1170(d)(2). He stated in his petition that he was 17 years old at the time of his offense; he was sentenced to the LWOP in 1998; and he had served more than 15 years of his sentence. Harring submitted a statement of remorse and rehabilitation, and he asserted his prior adjudicated felony of burglary was not a crime of assault or a crime with a potential for personal harm to victims that made him ineligible for recall.

The People opposed the petition, arguing, inter alia, that although Harring had pleaded guilty to burglary, he had originally been charged with robbery and burglary when he attempted to steal a PlayStation from a store. The People argued that a police report showed Harring had an altercation with a store security guard that had the significant potential for serious harm to the victim.

The Superior Court denied the petition, and Harring appealed, arguing, among other things, that § 1170(d)(2)(B)(ii) limits the Superior Court’s review of his prior adjudicated felony to only the elements of the conviction and that the statute does not authorize consideration of unproven factual circumstances related to the offense of conviction, i.e., alleged actual conduct.

The Court of Appeal observed “[t]he fundamental task of statutory interpretation is to determine the Legislature’s intent so as to effectuate the law’s purpose.” People v. Lewis, 491 P.3d 309 (Cal. 2021). “The words of a statute must be construed in context, keeping in mind the statutory purpose.” People v. Gonzales, 424 P.3d 280 (Cal. 2018). “If the language is clear, courts must generally follow its plain meaning unless a literal interpretation would result in absurd consequences the Legislature did not intend.” City of San Jose v. Superior Court, 389 P.3d 848 (Cal. 2017).

The relevant portion of the statute in question reads: “(B) The defendant shall file the original petition with the sentencing court. A copy of the petition shall be served on the agency that prosecuted the case. The petition shall include ... the defendant’s statement that one of the following is true: … (ii) The defendant does not have juvenile felony adjudications for assault or other felony crimes with a significant potential for personal harm to victims prior to the offense for which the sentence is being considered for recall.” § 1170(d)(2)(B)(ii). “If the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that one or more of the statements specified in clauses (i) to (iv), inclusive, of subparagraph (B) is true, the court shall recall the sentence and commitment previously ordered and hold a hearing to resentence the defendant in the same manner as if the defendant had not previously been sentenced....” § 1170(d)(2)(E).

The Court concluded that subparagraph (ii) does not refer to the juvenile’s conduct during the commission of the offense. It pointed to the text of subparagraph (ii), which instructs the trial court to decide if there are any “juvenile felony adjudications” for “assault” or “other felony crimes with a significant potential for personal harm to victims.” The Court explained that there’s nothing in the statute that refers to the juvenile’s conduct during the commission of the specified offenses. When the Legislature wishes trial courts to make broader determinations about conduct related to an offense, it knows how to do so, the Court stated. SeePeople v. Bradford, 227 Cal. App. 4th 1322 (2014) (express statutory language of § 667, subd. (e)(2)(C)(iii), requires trial court to make factual determination that is not limited by review of statutory offenses and enhancements of which the petitioner was convicted); In re Jensen, 92 Cal. App. 4th 262 (2001). Thus, the Court ruled that a “broader inquiry into underlying conduct related to the commission of an offense cannot be read into the plain language of subparagraph (ii).”

Turning to the present case, the Court concluded that the elements of Harring’s prior adjudicated offense of burglary, i.e., (1) entry into an uninhabited structure as defined in Penal Code §§ 459, 460, subdivisions (a) and (b), with the intent to commit grand or petit larceny, is not a crime “with significant potential of personal harm victims.” Therefore, the relevant evidence established that by a preponderance of evidence that Harring’s subparagraph (ii) statement was true.

Accordingly, the Court reversed the Superior Court’s order denying Harring’s petition and remanded for that court to hold a resentencing hearing. See: People v. Harring, 2021 Cal. App. LEXIS 798 (2021). 

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Related legal cases

People v. Harring

People v. Bradford

 

 

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