California Supreme Court Denies Petition for Review; Justice Liu Cites Limits of Current Legislation

Justice Goodwin Liu

By Ramneet Singh

CALIFORNIA –  The California Supreme Court late last week denied a petition for review in a case of murder and robbery, underlining questions about the rigidity of legislation and the limits of judicial interpretation.

On March 12, 2015, 18-year-old Giovanny Montelongo allegedly stabbed and robbed 15-year-old Keyshawn Brooks in Long Beach, California. According to the Long Beach Post, Montelongo “mistakenly believed the teen was a rival gang member.”

From a report filed on Oct. 15,  2020, the prosecution “charged Montelongo with robbery (Pen. Code, § 211) and murder (§ 187, subd. (a)) and alleged the special circumstance that Montelongo committed murder during the commission of a robbery.” The prosecution referred to his use of a “deadly or dangerous weapon” and the crime’s connection to gang activity.

Regarding the special circumstance, the statute asserted that there are conditions in which a defendant can be charged with “a sentence of life without an opportunity for parole.”

Montelongo was sentenced in 2018. From the aforementioned report, “the trial court sentenced Montelongo on the murder conviction to a prison term of life without the possibility of parole, plus one year for the weapon enhancement.”

In his defense and going forward, Montelongo argued that given he was 18 years old at the time, “a sentence of life without the possibility of parole was cruel and unusual punishment under theUnited States and California Constitutions.”

He cited Miller v. Alabama and scientific evidence to move the court to consider if he was “‘irretrievably depraved.’”

Moving from the case background, the report followed with a discussion of his appeal. In the discussion, there were legal challenges to Montelongo’s claims of the constitutional vagueness of the two statutes and the nature of the punishment, among other things.

Overall, the Court of Appeals stated that “because none of Montelongo’s arguments has merit, we affirm the (original) judgment.” In the second subsection of the discussion, the court noted that it had to work within the current legislation and could not extend itself beyond that.

On Nov. 17, 2020, Montelongo and his attorney Patricia A. Scott filed a petition for review of the case to the California Supreme Court. After being processed, “the time for granting or denying review in the above-entitled matter is hereby extended to and including February 11, 2021.”

On the docket, the official denial of the petition involved a concurring statement by Associate Justice Goodwin Liu, who has held the position since 2011.

In the first portion of the statement, Liu referred to Senate Bill No. 260 and Penal Code section 3051, a section of the legal code the Montelongo argued “denied him a parole hearing after his 25th year of imprisonment, while giving that benefit to other 18-year-old offenders.”

Liu stated, “The bill required the Board of Parole Hearings to conduct youth offender parole hearings and consider release of offenders who committed specified crimes before the age of 18.” The aim of the bill was that this mechanism could “enhance the prospect that…these individuals could become contributing members of society.”

Due to scientific research that assessed neurological factors in decision making, Liu also provided how the “age threshold” was extended to 25.

However, Liu stated that he was writing to show that “3051’s parole eligibility scheme—specifically, its exclusion of persons sentenced to life without parole for offenses committed between ages 18 and 25—stands in ‘tension’ with Miller v. Alabama (2012) 567 U.S. 460 (Miller).”

From this, Liu described what Miller understood as “three significant differences between juveniles and adults that bear on culpability.” He singled out how Miller concluded that the “attributes of youth” are not “crime-specific.”

Liu focused on how the legislature barred specific individuals from parole hearings due to their specific crimes and that section 3051 “…does not allow for resentencing  of 18- to 25-year-old offenders convicted of special circumstance murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.”

He affirmed Justice John L. Segal’s position that “…eligibility for a youthful parole hearing…” should disregard the accused crime.

Liu noted that the Court of Appeals did not determine if section 3051 “violates equal protection.” He brought up Justice Segal’s comparison between an instance where a young individual would be under parole and how Montelongo was not allowed that.

Liu referred to Contreras and the claim “‘that section 3051’s exclusion of certain juvenile offenders based on their controlling offense “violates principles of equal protection and the Eighth Amendment.’” Due to contention on the statute, he proposed that “‘there is good reason for legislative reconsideration.’”

Also, due to scientific advancement, he joins “Justice Segal’s suggestion that the Legislature “reconsider the propriety, wisdom, and perhaps even the constitutionality of imposing a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole on an 18-year-old.”

Ramneet Singh is a third-year student at the University of California, Davis. He is a Political Science major and is pursuing a History minor. He is from Livingston California.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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