People v. White (Cal. Ct. App., Dec. 27, 2022, No. C095640) 2022 WL 17958728, at *1
Summary: On May 2006, 25-year old White, while drunk and speeding, struck a car stopped on the shoulder of the highway with its hazard lights on, killing the driver and injuring two others. A jury found White guilty of second degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence causing injury, and driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or higher causing injury, with enhancements for causing and inflicting great bodily injury on multiple victims. The trial court sentenced White to an indeterminate term of 15 years to life for second degree murder, and a consecutive determinate middle term of two years for driving under the influence with injury.
In 2020, White requested and received a hearing pursuant to People v. Franklin (2016) 63 Cal.4th 261, 202 Cal.Rptr.3d 496, 370 P.3d 1053 (Franklin) to make a record of information relevant to an eventual youthful offender parole hearing. He filed a motion to vacate his sentence and remand for resentencing under In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal.2d 740 (Estrada) based on amendments to Penal Code section 654 following the passage of Assembly Bill No. 518. The trial court denied the motion.
White appealed , arguing: (1) the Franklin hearing rendered the judgment nonfinal and subject to Assembly Bill 518; (2) Assembly Bill 518 should be applied retroactively to all convictions; and (3) failure to remand for resentencing would deprive him of equal protection under the law. The Court of Appeal rejected these contentions and affirmed.
Senate Bill 518
At the time of sentencing, section 654, former subdivision (a) required that a defendant who committed an act punishable by two or more provisions of law be punished under the provision that provided for the longest possible term. Effective January 1, 2022, Assembly Bill 518 amended section 654, subdivision (a) to permit an act or omission punishable under two or more provisions of law to “be punished under either of such provisions.” Under newly amended section 654, a trial court is no longer required to punish under the longest possible term of imprisonment when multiple offenses are based on the same act or omission. (People v. Mani (2022) 74 Cal.App.5th 343, 379.) Section 654 “now provides the trial court with discretion to impose and execute the sentence of either term, which could result in the trial court imposing and executing the shorter sentence rather than the longer sentence.” (Mani, supra, at p. 379.)
Assembly Bill 518 “applies retroactively to defendants … whose convictions were not yet final when the law became effective January 1, 2022.” (People v. Sek (2022) 74 Cal.App.5th 657, 673.) White’s conviction became final before Assembly Bill 518 went into effect. Assembly Bill does not apply.
Finality of Conviction and Franklin Hearing
To provide a meaningful opportunity for the youth offender to obtain release and for the Board of Parole Hearings to “give great weight” to youth-related factors, the prisoner must be guaranteed a sufficient opportunity to put on the record relevant information of his or her characteristics and circumstances at the time of the offense. (Franklin, supra, 63 Cal.4th at pp. 282-284, 202 Cal.Rptr.3d 496, 370 P.3d 1053.) Hearings for admitting this evidence are referred to as Franklin hearings. In Franklin hearings, the trial court may receive submissions and testimony.
A Franklin hearing does not reopen a final judgment or sentencing. (People v. Lizarraga (2020) 56 Cal.App.5th 201, 207, 270 (Lizarraga).) It is an “evidence preservation process” to gather evidence for the eventual determination of parole, not a process to reopen or reconsider a sentence. A Franklin proceeding is unrelated to the validity of the defendant’s sentence. Neither the entitlement to a youth offender parole hearing, nor the evidence preservation process disturbs the finality of state convictions.
A youth offender parole hearing does not affect the underlying sentence. Similarly, a Franklin hearing to ensure a fair parole hearing does not affect the defendant’s final judgment. When a youth offender receives a Franklin hearing, the offender “need not be resentenced” because the sentence remains valid. (Franklin, supra, 63 Cal.4th at p. 284.) At a Franklin hearing, the youth offender “may place on the record any documents, evaluations, or testimony (subject to cross-examination) that may be relevant at his eventual youth offender parole hearing, and the prosecution likewise may put on the record any evidence that demonstrates the juvenile offender’s culpability or cognitive maturity, or otherwise bears on the influence of youth-related factors. The goal of any such proceeding is to provide an opportunity for the parties to make an accurate record of the juvenile offender’s characteristics and circumstances at the time of the offense so that the Board, years later, may properly discharge its obligation to ‘give great weight to’ youth related factors (§ 4801, subd. (c)) in determining whether the offender is ‘fit to rejoin society’ despite having committed a serious crime ‘while he was a child in the eyes of the law.’ ” (Ibid.) A Franklin hearing does not reopen or affect the defendant’s sentence. (Lizarraga, supra, 56 Cal.App.5th at p. 207, 270.)
The California Supreme Court has stated that a Franklin hearing is not related to the sentence and does not reopen the underlying conviction.
Retroactivity of Assembly Bill 518
New criminal laws generally do not apply to prosecutions initiated before the law went into effect. (Estrada, supra, 63 Cal.2d at pp. 746-748.) The California Supreme Court recognized an exception to this rule in Estrada, which held that new laws that mitigate punishment are presumed to apply to cases charged before the law’s enactment but which are not yet final. (Estrada, supra, at p. 745.)
Assembly Bill 518 is silent on the question of retroactivity and provides no mechanism by which youth offenders whose convictions are final can petition for resentencing. Therefore, Assembly Bill 518’s retroactivity extends only to defendants whose cases were not final at the time the new law was enacted. White’s judgment became final before Assembly Bill 518 was enacted; therefore, the ameliorative provisions of the new law are not available to him.
Limiting a sentence reduction’s retroactivity to cases not then final also does not deny equal protection.
Limiting Assembly Bill 518’s retroactivity to defendants whose cases are not yet final thus does not violate equal protection rights.
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