Veteran’s Petition for Resentencing Denied Because His Mental Health Conditions Predated His Military Service

Above: Diagnostic criteria for PTSD. (Verywell)

On December 11, 2020, a California Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s order denying Kohen Diallo Uhuru’s petition for resentencing. Uhuru had claimed he was entitled to resentencing because he has served in the military and suffered from mental health conditions.

Uhuru pled guilty in 2000 to second-degree murder and admitted to using a firearm during the offense. He was sentenced, according to his plea agreement, to a term of 25 years to life.

In 2019, Uhuru petitioned for resentencing under section 1170.91 of the California Penal Code. This section says that “[a] person currently serving a sentence for a felony conviction, whether by trial or plea, who is, or was, a member of the United States military and who may be suffering from sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or mental health problems as a result of his or her military service may petition for a recall of sentence[,]” as long as the person’s mental health was not considered during the original sentencing, and he or she is serving a determinate sentence.

Uhuru claimed that he entered the military with preexisting conditions of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from several injuries, including being “beat in the head with baseball bats[,]” a gunshot wound to his head, a car accident, and childhood abuse. He alleged that these conditions persisted after his military service. He also claimed that he was suffering from a substance use disorder when he was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1974.

The court denied Uhuru’s petition, reasoning that section 1170.91 applies to military members suffering mental health conditions only because of their military service. Because Uhuru admitted in his petition that his PTSD and TBI began before his military service, the court found that he was not entitled to resentencing under section 1170.91. The court also found Uhuru to be ineligible because the section applies only to determinate sentences, and Uhuru’s sentence is an indeterminate life sentence. Uhuru appealed.

The appellate court affirmed the order to deny Uhuru’s petition, agreeing with the trial court’s reasoning that Uhuru’s preexisting mental health conditions did not qualify him for relief under section 1170.91.

Citation: People v. Uhuru, 2020 WL 7294835

Keywords: California, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), military

This post is the 84th 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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