People v. Gutierrez/Moffett: California Supreme Court Holds No Presumption of an LWOP Sentence for Juveniles

On May 5, 2014, the California Supreme Court announced that for 20 years, courts had been erroneously construing the state’s juvenile life-in-prison-without-parole (LWOP) statute, incorrectly employing a presumption in favor of a sentence of life without parole for 16- and 17-year-olds convicted of homicide under particular circumstances. In the consolidated cases of People v. Gutierrez (S206365) and People v. Moffett (S206771), the court determined that this presumption violates the Eighth Amendment under Miller v. Alabama (2012) 132 S.Ct. 2455. In the unanimous opinion authored by Justice Goodwin Liu, the court also held “that the trial court must consider all relevant evidence bearing on the distinctive attributes of youth discussed in Miller and how those attributes diminish the penological justifications for imposing the harshest sentences on juvenile offenders.” Finally, the court rejected the Attorney General’s argument that SB 9, a law passed by the California legislature in 2012, eliminated any of the concerns addressed in Miller. The court reversed the LWOP sentences of Luis Angel Gutierrez  and Andrew Lawrence Moffett for new sentencing hearings.

Marsha Levick of Juvenile Law Center argued as amicus with appellate counsel Jean Matulis and Joe Shipp. The amicus effort, spearheaded by the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center, included Amnesty International, Disability Rights Legal Center, Human Rights Advocates, Loyola Law School Center for Juvenile Law and Policy, University of San Francisco Center for Law and Global Justice, Human Rights Watch, United Mexican States (Mexico), and Juvenile Law Center.