California Supreme Court Justices Turn Down Bid for Review, but Some Cite Discomfort with Man’s Near Life Sentence for Theft of Pair of Jeans

By Crescenzo Vellucci

The Vanguard Capitol Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON, DC – Theft of a $38 pair of jeans, and a resulting 25 years to life sentence, last week led three justices on the California State Supreme Court to suggest, in concurring statements, they were uneasy with the court’s decision to not review in People v. Mota, according to comments in a blog in

In short, the justices didn’t disagree with keeping the man in prison – for now. They did suggest he could apply for a pardon, or parole or reduction in sentence.

The case involved an accused who was, in 1997, sentenced to 25 years to life for petty theft – stealing a pair of jeans. The court said the simple theft caused the life sentence to kick in because of three strikes, and harkened back to a robbery-kidnapping-rape conviction nearly 20 years prior, when the accused was just 18.

The Fourth District, Division Two, Court of Appeal unpublished opinion stated the superior court “acted within its circumscribed discretion in denying defendant’s motion to strike his prior strike conviction findings.”  

Although blog noted there were no recorded dissenting votes, SCOC Justice Joshua Groban, joined by Justices Goodwin Liu and Kelli Evans, said “filed a concurring statement to express discomfort with the result and to offer suggestions about other avenues of relief for the defendant.”

Justice Groban, while noting agreement with the opinion in the decision, added, “The troubling fact remains…that defendant, now in his mid-60s and suffering from numerous medical ailments, has spent over 27 years in prison for stealing a pair of jeans — conduct that can be sentenced as a misdemeanor under current law…(by) comparison, the median time served in state prison before initial release for murder is 17.5 years.”

Groban added “our denial of the petition for review does not necessarily preclude defendant from obtaining relief at some point in the future,” and listed relief possibilities, including, resentencing “in the interest of justice…reduce or vacate the sentence,” determine the “suitability for parole or “commutation of sentence or be pardoned.”

The blog added Justice Liu “revived a long-dormant practice of issuing separate statements when the court denies review, and he and other justices — including Justices Groban and Evans — have done so on numerous occasions since then.”

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