Yesterday’s Supreme Court conference, a double one, was one of several firsts: the first conference of 2023, the first with Patricia Guerrero as chief justice, and the first for new Justice Kelli Evans. Also, the conference featured Justice Evans’s first dissenting vote. Conference actions of note included:

  • Supreme Court accepts Ninth Circuit jail employment case.
  • Parole eligibility. The court granted review in People v. Hardin, where the Second District, Division Seven, published opinion found an equal protection violation in the statutory parole eligibility scheme for serious offenses committed by young adults. If a person is sentenced to 25 years to life for crimes, including first degree premeditated murder, committed when they were under 26 years old, they are eligible for parole after a quarter century. But there is no such eligibility for that person if they were instead sentenced to life without possibility of parole. There’s “no rational basis” for that distinction, Division Seven said. The Supreme Court has denied review in several cases reaching a contrary conclusion. (See among others People v. Sands (2021) 70 Cal.App.5th 193; People v. Acosta (2021) 60 Cal.App.5th 769; In re Williams (2020) 57 Cal.App.5th 427.) Substantial though the issue might be, the court probably would have denied review in Hardin, too, had Division Seven agreed with those other cases. (Related: The Supreme Court doesn’t decide all important issues.) The court is poised to analyze a related disparity in parole eligibility in People v. Williams (see here). Justice Goodwin Liu has shown a continued interest in issues concerning parole eligibility for young adults (see here, here, and here), including filing two separate statements last year (see here and here).
  • Justice Evans’s first dissent. The court denied review in People v. Machado, but Justice Evans joined Justice Liu in recording votes to grant. The published portion of the Second District, Division One, partially published opinion held it was OK for the superior court to reject the prosecution’s stipulation that the defendant was entitled to resentencing for a 1981 murder. The prosecution acted under a Los Angeles County District Attorney directive to not contest certain resentencing petitions in felony-murder cases. Division One said, “as with any other stipulation, the court must make its own determination of whether the matter to which the parties have stipulated is consistent with the law.” The votes on the Machado petition might be a sign that, and how, the court will divide when it decides another case involving the LA DA’s discretion — Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County v. Gascón (see here).
  • Chocolate fraud. Justices Joshua Groban and Martin Jenkins recorded dissenting votes from the denial of review in Salazar v. Walmart, Inc., where the published opinion of the Fourth District, Division Two, reversed the dismissal on demurrer of a class action alleging Walmart’s sale of its “Great Value White Baking Chips” was deceptive because the product did not contain white chocolate. Division Two disagreed with a 2020 federal district court decision and concluded, “a reasonable consumer could reasonably be misled to believe that the chips are white chocolate chips, because the consumer would not be aware that the chips could be something else.” The same appellate panel also reversed dismissal of a similar lawsuit against Target regarding that store’s “White Baking Morsels.” (Published opinion here.) The Supreme Court yesterday denied the petition for review in that case without recorded dissent — Salazar v. Target Corp.
  • DA DQ in BLM case. The court declined to hear People v. Lastra and also denied a request to depublish the opinion of the Second District, Division Six, which affirmed the grant of the defendants’ motion to recuse the county district attorney’s office from prosecuting the case. The defendants face charges concerning their protest march following the George Floyd murder. According to the opinion, the recusal was ordered because of the district attorney’s “well-publicized association with critics of the Black Lives Matter movement.” Division Six said it was “declin[ing] to substitute our judgment for that of a trial court familiar with the social, legal, and political dynamics of San Luis Obispo County.” [January 13 update: A San Luis Obispo Tribune editorial says the Supreme Court’s ruling was “the right call” and urges the Attorney General, who is now in charge of the case, to “end this politically motivated persecution.”]
  • Criminal case grant-and-holds. There were eight criminal case grant-and-holds:  two more waiting for a decision in People v. Lynch (see here), two holding for People v. Hardin (see above), and one more each on hold for People v. Curiel (see here), People v. Salazar (see here), People v. Rojas (see here), and People v. Mitchell (see here).