In its first 4-3 split in almost two years, the Supreme Court in People v. Padilla today holds that a 2016 law that requires enhanced hearings before crimes committed by minors can be prosecuted in adult criminal court applies to a defendant who was first sentenced over 20 years ago to life without parole for a murder he committed at age 16. His sentence was vacated more than a decade later on a habeas corpus petition based on U.S. Supreme Court LWOP-for-minors case law, but was then reimposed and his challenge to the reimposed LWOP sentence was still in the courts when voters approved Proposition 57, which adopted the new law. The defendant, now 40 years old, will get a new hearing to determine whether he should have been tried in juvenile court in the first place.

Four years ago, the court unanimously held in People v. Superior Court (Lara) (2018) 4 Cal.5th 299 that Proposition 57 applies retroactively “to all juveniles charged directly in adult court whose judgment was not final at the time it was enacted.” Today’s majority opinion by Justice Goodwin Liu — and concurred in by Justices Leondra Kruger, Joshua Groban, and Martin Jenkins — says the defendant’s judgment “became nonfinal when his sentence was vacated on habeas corpus” and it doesn’t matter that “a case is nonfinal because the defendant’s sentence has been vacated rather than because the initial review of the sentence has not yet concluded.”

Justice Carol Corrigan dissents for herself and Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and pro tem Justice Steven Perren. She criticizes the majority’s “expanded and unsound rule” that “fails to honor the distinction between a judgment that has become final on appeal and a new remedy sought by collateral attack.” The dissent says “[t]he majority’s suggestion that a long-final case can subsequently become ‘nonfinal’ . . . essentially treats ‘finality’ like a switch that can be toggled on and off.”

The court affirms the published opinion of the Second District, Division Four, Court of Appeal.