First Resentencing Under SB 9 for Juvenile Sentenced to Life Without Parole

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December 2013

Irell & Manella LLP secured what appears to be the first-ever resentencing under the recently enacted California Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, also known as “Senate Bill 9” ("SB 9"). SB 9 permits individuals, who committed an offense while under the age of 18 and received life in prison without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”), to petition the court for a recall and resentencing after serving 15 years of the original sentence. On behalf of Edel Gonzalez, a pro bono client referred to the firm by the Human Rights Watch and USC Gould School of Law Post-Conviction Justice Project, Irell convinced the Orange County Superior Court to recall his LWOP sentence and to pronounce a new parole-eligible sentence of 25 years to life, giving him the opportunity to apply for parole in less than 3 years.

In 1991, while 16 years old, Gonzalez and a number of adult gang members participated in an attempted carjacking that led to the tragic death of a victim. Although Gonzalez was not the shooter, carried no weapon during the commission of the crime, had been intoxicated, did not have a significant juvenile record and had been physically abused as a child, he was given the same sentence as the trigger man and sentenced to the maximum punishment allowable under the law. At that time, he was the youngest individual in Orange County’s history to receive LWOP.  

Invoking SB 9, which requires the sentencing court to weigh certain relevant factors, Irell persuaded the judge that, after spending 22 years of his life behind bars, Gonzalez was a changed man and deserving of a chance at parole. The court agreed and found Gonzalez's institutional record “exceptional,” because he had no reprimands for violence or for drug or alcohol use, which are prevalent in state prison. The court also noted that Gonzalez was given a risk assessment score of “1” by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, signifying that he was a low risk for recidivism, and that the California Youth Authority had found him amenable to change in 1997. In filings, Irell put forth evidence that Gonzalez had severed all ties to gangs both inside and outside prison, freed himself of his prior addictions and had availed himself of almost every educational and rehabilitation program offered to him in prison.  

In court today, Gonzalez stated, “There isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not reminded of the wrong, the harm and the pain I’ve caused. If given the opportunity, I hope one day to help young kids stay away from gangs and their lies – kids that think there’s no way out, as I did in my youth. I want to share with those kids my personal experiences of this life.”

Gonzalez was represented by Bryant Yang and Zachary Davidson of Irell & Manella LLP. The firm extends its gratitude to Elizabeth Calvin from Human Rights Watch and Professor Heidi Rummel from USC Gould School of Law.