California Court Remands 19-Year-Old Defendant’s 192-Year Prison Sentence for New Sentencing Hearing in Wake of Revised California Legislation

Above: Defendant Darrien Washington — Image Source: Hanford Sentinel

After defendant Darrien Washington was denied a youthful parole hearing, he appealed his lengthy prison sentence on the grounds that it was “cruel and unusual” due to his young age at the time of his offenses. Additionally, in his appeal, which included substantial mention of brain science, Washington argued that his sentence was in violation of the California equal protection clause due to a technicality in California’s “three strike” sentencing statute.

Co-defendants Anthony Jacobs and Darrien Washington were convicted of premeditated attempted murder, assault with a firearm, and related charges committed in Hanford, California in April 2017. Additionally, Washington, aged 19 at the time of the time he committed the crimes, was convicted of being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm, due to his previous felony firearm conviction. Washington was sentenced to 27 years and 4 months plus 165 years to life in prison.

According to California law, “someone who was given a lengthy prison term for an offense that he/she committed at 25 years of age or younger, is entitled to a youthful parole hearing . . . accordingly, the parole board is required to ‘give great weight to the diminished culpability of youth as compared to adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity of the prisoner.’” However, because Washington had a previous felony conviction, he was sentenced under the three strikes statute which, under California law, would bar him from being “eligible for a youth offender parole hearing” despite his age. His counsel argues that if it were not for his prior offenses, his sentence would have been half that of what he received.

In regard to the three strikes law, the court cites an opinion from a previous case, People v. Wilkes:

“Statutes that punish recidivists more severely than first offenders have a long tradition in this country that dates back to colonial times. States have a valid interest in deterring and segregating habitual criminals. The purpose of section 3051 is ‘to give youthful offenders a meaningful opportunity to obtain release’ after they have served at least 15, 20, or 25 years in prison and made ‘a showing of rehabilitation and maturity’ and ‘to account for neuroscience research that the human brain — especially those portions responsible for judgment and decision making — continues to develop into a person’s mid-20[‘]s.’ Assuming a Three Strikes youth offender is similarly situated to other youth offenders for purposes of section 3051, the Legislature could rationally determine that the former — ‘a recidivist who has engaged in significant antisocial behavior and who has not benefited from the intervention of the criminal justice system’ — presents too great a risk of recidivism to allow the possibility of early parole.’”

However, at the time that Washington was sentenced, the appeals court notes that the “trial courts lacked discretion to strike or dismiss a five-year serious felony enhancement.” On January 1, 2019, Senate Bill no. 1393 went into effect which removed this bar. Thus, Washington “contends the amendments apply retroactively to him because his convictions are not yet final, and the matter must be remanded so the trial court can consider whether to strike the enhancements.” The Court of Appeals ultimately agreed and remanded the matter “for sentencing pursuant to Senate Bill 1393.”

Key words: adolescent brain, three strikes law, criminal sentencing, California

Citation: People v. Jacobs, 2020 WL 6343216

This post is the 23rd 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.

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at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

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