Appellate Court Upholds SB 394 (JLWOP Relief)
California v. Board of Parole Hearings Docket: C093941 (Third Appellate District), Opinion Date: September 15, 2022. In 1997, real party in interest and appellant Nathan Ramazzini was convicted of first degree murder with a special circumstance regarding a killing that occurred when Ramazzini was 16 years old. Pursuant to California Penal Code section 190.5 (b), enacted by Proposition 115 (the Crime Victims Justice Reform Ac), Ramazzini was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP). At the time Ramazzini was sentenced, courts interpreted section 190.5 (b) as establishing a presumption in favor of LWOP. In 2012, the US Supreme Court concluded the Eighth Amendment to the federal Constitution barred mandatory LWOP sentences for minors. The California Supreme Court subsequently concluded that section 190.5 (b) conferred discretion on the sentencing court to impose either a sentence of 25 years to life or LWOP, but the presumption in favor of LWOP was inconsistent with Miller. In response to Miller, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill No. 394 (2017- 2018 Reg. Sess.), which provided that those sentenced to LWOP for crimes committed when they were 16 or 17 years old were eligible for release on parole during their 25th year of incarceration. Ramazzini became eligible for a parole hearing in July 2021. Upon learning of that eligibility, the Colusa County District Attorney’s Office (Office), petitioned for writ of mandate seeking to invalidate Senate Bill No. 394 on its face and as applied to Ramazzini, and to enjoin the Board of Parole Hearings (Board) from enforcing its provisions. The trial court granted the Office’s writ petition as applied to Ramazzini. The Board appealed, contending the Office lacked standing to petition for writ of mandate, and Senate Bill No. 394 was lawfully enacted. Ramazzini also appealed, joining the Board’s contentions and separately contended that Senate Bill No. 394 was lawfully enacted because it did not amend Proposition 115’s alternative sentencing scheme for 16- and 17-year-old defendants. The Court of Appeal agreed the Office lacked standing to bring the writ petition, and invalidated the judgment invalidating Senate Bill No. 394 as applied to Ramazzini.
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