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JLWOP Denial of Resentencing Violates Equal Protection Guarantees

California v. Heard Docket: D079237 (Fourth Appellate District), Opinion Date: September 20, 2022. Frank Heard was serving a sentence of 23 years plus 80 years to life for two counts of attempted willful, deliberate and premeditated murder for a drive-by shooting he committed at age 15, and one count of voluntary manslaughter for a homicide he committed just after he turned 16. After 15 years of incarceration, he petitioned the trial court to recall his sentence and resentence him to a lesser sentence under Penal Code section 1170 (d)(1) (formerly (d)(2)). The trial court denied Heard’s petition, finding him ineligible for relief because he was not sentenced to an explicitly designated term of life without the possibility of parole. Heard appealed, presenting two issues of first impression: (1) the resentencing provision should be interpreted to apply not only to juvenile offenders sentenced to explicitly designated terms of life without parole, but also to a juvenile offender, like him, who have been sentenced to multiple terms that are the functional equivalent of life without parole; and (2) a contrary interpretation of the resentencing provision would violate his constitutional right to equal protection of the laws. The Court of Appeal rejected Heard's his first contention, instead interpreting section 1170 (d)(1)(A), to limit eligibility to petition for recall and resentencing to juvenile offenders sentenced to explicitly designated life without parole terms. But the Court concluded denying juvenile offenders, who were sentenced to the functional equivalent of life without parole, the opportunity to petition for resentencing violated the guarantee of equal protection. The Court therefore reversed the trial court’s order and remanded for further proceedings.

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