CA Supreme Court Decides Gutierrez and Moffett Cases
On May 5, 2014, the California Supreme Court announced its decisions in People v. Gutierrez and People v. Moffett. Both cases involved Life Without the Possibility of Parole Sentences handed down to youth who were under the age of 18 at the time of involvement in a homicide. Youth Law Center submitted an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Luis Angel Gutierrez, co-authored by the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center. The Court disapproved longstanding case law that had created a presumption that all juveniles in cases involving special circumstances should receive Life Without the Possibility of Parole. At the same time, the Court made it clear that, under Miller v. Alabama, sentencing courts must consider the distinctive attributes of youth in sentencing juveniles, including age-related issues such as immaturity, impetuosity and failure to appreciate risks and consequences; the possibility that the young person’s deficiencies will be reformed with maturity; family and home environment from which the young person may have been unable to extricate himself; the circumstances of the offense, including substance abuse and the extent of the young person’s participation and any familial or peer pressures that may have affected him; whether the young person’s inability to deal with police officers or prosecutors or his own attorneys may have contributed to his being charged with a more serious offense; and any evidence or information bearing on the possibility of rehabilitation. Because these factors were not considered, both cases were remanded to the trial court for proceedings applying these rules. The case is significant in re-affirming the California Supreme Court’s recognition that juveniles are different from adults, and that these differences must be taken into account in sentencing – even in very serious cases. While youth re-sentenced under the case would still serve 25 years to Life, it gives hope to some young people serving Life Without the Possibility of Parole for crimes committed when they were children.