California Court of Appeal Denies Youth Offender Parole Hearing to 21-Year-Old Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Above: Joshua Acosta (link)

The California Court of Appeals affirmed Joshua Acosta’s sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and an additional term of 75 years to life for three counts of first-degree murder.

Joshua Acosta was 21 years old when he became friends with Katlynn G, a minor who told him that she wanted to run away from home or kill her stepfather because he was physically and sexually abusing her. Acosta and a close friend decided to “save” Katlynn from further abuse. They used a stolen shotgun to kill Katlynn’s parents and a family friend who happened to be staying in the house.

At trial, the defense had presented evidence that Acosta has been diagnosed with a form of high functioning autism spectrum disorder. They argued that he “functions at the social-emotional level of an 11-year-old, making him easily subject to manipulation” and that his impulsivity due to ADHD compounded his social-emotional deficiencies.

On appeal, Acosta contended that the exclusion of young adult LWOP defenders from youth offender parole hearings violated equal protection. He also argued that his LWOP sentences constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and that his autism spectrum disorder mitigated his moral culpability.

The court ruled that age is a rational basis for distinguishing between juvenile and young adults sentenced to LWOP. However, the court noted that it had “some reservations about [it’s] analysis” because “the Legislature expressly recognized that cognitive brain development continues into the early 20s or later, and the parts of the brain that are still developing during this process affect judgement in ways that are highly relevant to criminal behavior.”

The court also discussed that the purpose of the statute is to allow for young offenders who committed a serious crime before they were fully mature to show they have become fit to return to society. With this public policy purpose in mind, the court stated that “arguably an LWOP offender and a non-LWOP offender are equally capable of gaining maturity, so we question whether the exclusion for young adult LWOP offenders from this process is consistent with the statute’s purpose and legislative history.”

However, the court recognized that it could not “insert [its] own policy concerns into the analysis” and rejected Acosta’s equal protection challenge. It further rejected his argument that LWOP constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment and declined to extend protections for juvenile offenders to young adults on the autism spectrum. Therefore, Acosta’s life without parole and 75-year sentences were affirmed.

Citation: People v. Acosta, 60 Cal.App.5th 769 (2021)

Key words: California, Miller v. Alabama, young adult, LWOP, Autism spectrum disorder

This post is the 100th post as part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.

--

--

--

at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Roblox sues YouTuber for temporarily shutting down conference with fake terrorist threat by…

washington first insurance

Kids Are Humans Too

Hillary versus Biden versus Trump

In 1984…

The Eyewitness National Crime Alert for June 26, 2017

Can the Former and Never Trump Republicans Save Democrats from Themselves?

The @Mikecav5 Twitter Followers Guide to the Midterms, Part II

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

More from Medium

My son wants rainbow tights

Literacy Inequality & People With Visual Disabilities — Braille Works

Literacy goes beyond the ability to read and write.

Do We Really Need Another Article About Ableist Language?

The Journey That Led Me to Get Tested for Autism at 50 — Part One