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California Court Refuses to Reduce Juvenile's 32 Years-to-Life Under Miller v. Alabama

by Lonnie Burton

On January 24, 2017, a three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two, largely upheld the sentence of a man who was sentenced in 2011, at age 14, to 35 years (to life) for attempted murder and robbery. The court held that the recent U.S. Supreme Court case of Miller v. Alabama (132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012)) did not apply because the man had a.realistic chance for release after serving 25 years.

On July 15, 2011, a California jury found 14-year-old Andrew Garcia guilty of attempted murder and robbery. The jury further found that Garcia personally and intentionally used a firearm during the commission of the crime and that he inflicted great bodily injury. On December 23, 2011, the trial court sentenced Garcia to 35 years to life in prison: seven years for the attempted murder, plus a 25 year to life enhancement for intentional discharge of a firearm, and another three years for a great bodily injury enhancement. All sentences were ordered to be served consecutively, but the court stayed any sentence for the robbery.

During sentencing, the court refused to listen to any personal information About Garcia, stating that it had "very little leeway" in the sentence, which "is ordered by the Legislature and it's an order I've been sworn to uphold, and I am therefore upholding it."

Garcia appealed, initially challenging only the three year great bodily injury enhancement. However, in 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama, a case that held that sentencing juvenile offenders to de facto life sentences violated the constitution's Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.

The California Court of Appeal struck the three year great bodily injury enhancement after the People agreed it was imposed in error. Under California law, such an enhancement may not be imposed "in addition to" another enhancement (see § 12022.53. subd. (f)). "This results in a new sentence of 32 years to life, to which we will now turn."

The appellate court then held that the new sentence did not violate Miller or the Eighth Amendment for two reasons. First, Garcia's sentence is neither an actual nor effective life sentence, and he will be 47 years old after 32 years, "well within his life expectancy," the court said. Second, even for actual life sentences, recently-enacted California laws guarantee a youthful offender a parole hearing after 25 years, and thus Garcia will be eligible for parole when he is 40 years old, after serving 25 years.

"Therefore, Garcia's sentence of 32 years to life does not violate the Federal Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, as set forth in ... Miller," the court concluded. See: The People v. Garcia, No. E059452 (C.A. Dist. 4 CA), January 24, 2017.

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Related legal case

The People v. Garcia