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1170.95 Court: Special Circumstance Findings Cannot Be a Categorical Bar to Resentencing Relief

California v. Wilson Court: California Courts of Appeal, Docket: D078231 (Fourth Appellate District, Division One), Opinion Date: September 29, 2021. Appellant Thandiew Wilson was convicted by a jury in July 2002 of, among other things, murder with the special circumstance findings that it was committed during the commission or attempted commission of a robbery and a burglary. By finding the special circumstance allegations true, the jury necessarily found that Wilson either participated in the crimes with an intent to kill or was a major participant who acted with reckless indifference to human life. Wilson was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, plus 25 years to life for a gun enhancement. The Court of Appeal affirmed that judgment on appeal. Wilson appealed the summary denial of his petition for resentencing pursuant to California Penal Code section 1170.95 (Petition). The trial court denied the Petition in light of the jury’s special circumstance findings, which it deemed a categorical bar to resentencing relief. Recently, however, another panel of the Court of Appeal held that a felony murder special circumstance finding did not bar resentencing relief under section 1170.95 as a matter of law, having been persuaded by the reasoning of those Courts of Appeal that considered the issue after California v. Gomez, 52 Cal.App.5th 1 (2020). The Court’s review of that case law and the meaning of the terms “major participant” and “reckless indifference to human life” also persuaded the Court that special circumstance findings could not be a categorical bar to resentencing relief. Therefore, the Court reversed the order summarily denying the Petition, and remanded the case to the trial court for a determination on whether Wilson made a prima facile showing of entitlement to relief under section 1170.95.


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