University of Southern California


PCJP Victory: Juvenile Offender Serving Life Released From Prison

Written March 24th, 2015 by

Edel Gonzalez at age 16

The first juvenile offender resentenced under the California Fair Sentencing for Youth Act was released from prison this week thanks to the work of law students with USC Gould’s Post-Conviction Justice Project (PCJP).

Edel Gonzalez, who was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for a crime he committed at age 16, was represented by the PCJP and Irell and Manella. Human Rights Watch consulted on the case.

Scott Mills, a second-year USC law student, represented Gonzalez under the direction of PCJP attorneys “It was extremely fulfilling to be part of this case. Edel truly deserves all of the credit because he put in the hard work to change his life,” Mills said. “I have learned so much working with my professors from both a legal and personal standpoint.”

Gonzalez, who turns 40 next month, served 24 years in prison for being present at a murder committed by adults. He was the youngest person in Orange County to receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

After taking into account Gonzalez’s pristine prison record and the passage of two new laws, California parole officials and Gov. Jerry Brown determined that Gonzalez was suitable for parole.

“A life without parole sentence means that that there is no opportunity to ever be released from prison,” said Prof. Heidi Rummel, co-director of USC Gould School of Law Post-Conviction Justice Project. “But a growing body of high-court decisions and scientific opinion weigh against the use of the sentence for people who are under 18 at the time of their crimes.”

The California Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, signed into law by Gov. Brown, allows juvenile offenders sentenced to life without the possibility of parole to petition the court for resentencing after serving 15 years.

In December 2013, a judge gave Gonzalez a new sentence with the possibility of parole. Once eligible for parole, Gonzalez benefited from Senate Bill 260, which went into effect in 2014, requiring parole commissioners to consider the diminished culpability of youth at the time of their crime. The legislation was co-sponsored by USC Gould’s PCJP, with Gould professors and students helping to draft the bill. They also testified in Sacramento to urge its passage.

“The legislation has created hope among many who faced hopeless sentences – Edel’s release makes it tangible for the many youth offenders serving life,” Rummel said.  “Edel Gonzalez was the first person whose case was heard under the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, and the first person to be released.”

For the past several years, courts have started differentiating between youths and adults. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory sentencing of juvenile offenders to life without parole was cruel and unusual. The California Supreme Court modified California’s sentencing law, holding in People v. Gutierrez that sentencing courts must take into consideration a host of factors relevant to the distinct status of juveniles. Among other factors, the courts recognized that adolsecent brains are still developing in ways relevant to culpability.

Gonzalez was released this week to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and will be deported to Mexico. Gonzalez and his family immigrated to the United States when he was a baby, and he did not have U.S. citizenship. He plans to work for a church and help mentor at-risk youth avoid the allure of gangs and negative influences.

“It is totally in keeping with Edel’s character that he has chosen to spend his life giving back to the community.

Reprinted with permission from the USC Gould School of Law.

Governor Brown Signs SB 260

Written September 18th, 2013 by

On September 16, 2013, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 260, a measure that allows inmates whose crimes were committed as minors to appear before the Board of Parole Hearings to demonstrate their suitability for release after serving at least 15 years of their sentence. The law will affect more than 5,000 California inmates and directs the Board to give “great weight to the diminished culpability of juveniles” and to consider evidence of their maturity and rehabilitation in prison.

The Post-Conviction Justice Project was a co-sponsor of the bill along with Human Rights Watch, Youth Law Center, and Friends Committee on Legislation.

SB 260 Passes the Assembly Floor

Written September 9th, 2013 by

SB 260 – Youthful Offender Parole Hearing – Passes the Assembly Floor

Senate Bill 260, authored by Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), passed the Assembly floor with a vote of 51-21. SB 260 requires the Board of Parole Hearings to conduct a youth offender parole hearing to consider release of offenders who committed specified crimes prior to being 18 years old and who were sentenced to state prison. The Post-Conviction Justice Project was a co-sponsor of the bill along with Human Rights Watch, Youth Law Center, and Friends Committee on Legislation.

This bill will head back to the Senate for concurrence. If the bill passes the Senate floor on concurrence, the bill will head to Governor Brown for final consideration.

For more details and specific bill language, click here.

California Supreme Court Reaffirms Lawrence Holding

Written January 17th, 2012 by

On December 29, 2011, the California Supreme Court decided In re Richard Shaputis (Shaputis II), in which it reaffirmed the “some evidence” standard first articulated in Lawrence in 2008.

In Shaputis II, the Supreme Court reversed a Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn the Board of Parole Hearing’s denial of parole to Richard Shaputis. The Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeal had gone too far in reviewing that Board’s denial by “reweighing” the evidence presented before the Board. The Court also articulated a new standard for lower courts to review Board denials based on an inmate’s “lack of insight.”


Click here to read the entire Supreme Court opinion.

PCJP Student to Argue Before the California Court of Appeal on February 9, 2012

Written January 17th, 2012 by

b51b9d2d3bde8ed5bddb99898589_grandeOn February 9, 2012, PCJP student Steve Papazian will argue on behalf of Jeanna Redwood before Division Seven of the California Court of Appeal, Second District. The argument was originally scheduled for November 3, 2011, but was later continued upon request by the Attorney General’s office.

PCJP Student Argues Before 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

Written January 17th, 2012 by

PCJP student Anand Krishnawamy with clinical fellow Elizabeth Henneke (left) and PCJP codirector Michael Brennan (right)

On December 5, 2011, Anand Krishnaswamy argued on behalf of PCJP client Destinni Mardesich before a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena.

Accompanied by PCJP codirector Michael Brennan and clinical fellow Elizabeth Henneke, Anand offered strong arguments in support of his client, and was congratulated by Judge Dorothy Nelson for his performance.

U.S. Supreme Court to Review Constitutionality of Life Without Parole Sentences for Juveniles

Written November 21st, 2011 by

After holding in 2010, in Graham v. Florida, that juveniles may not be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide crimes, the U.S. Supreme Court will again review the constitutionality of death in prison sentences for juvenile offenders.

In Jackson v. Hobbs, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a life without parole sentence for a 14-year-old convicted of an unintentional killing where he was not the triggerman. In Miller v. Alabama, an Alabama appeals court upheld a sentence of life imprisonment without parole imposed on a 14-year-old convicted of intentional murder. Both sentences were mandatory and did not permit any consideration of the juvenile’s age or adolescent status. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on both cases on March 20, 2012, and is expected to issue a decision in the spring.

For more information, check the following articles:

Equal Justice Initiative


Los Angeles Times

International Business Times


Young Kids, Hard Times to Premiere on MSNBC November 20

Written November 18th, 2011 by

“Young Kids, Hard Times,” an extraordinary documentary on youth prosecuted as adults, will premiere on MSNBC Sunday, November 20th at 7 p.m. PST.

The one-hour documentary, narrated by Rick Springfield, throws back the veil on the reality of young kids serving long sentences in adult prisons.

The film’s producers will host a live chat during and after the film on their Facebook page:


Here are some facts about juvenile sentencing in the United States:

• In 22 states plus the District of Columbia, children as young as seven can be tried and sentenced in adult              court.

• The United States remains the only country in the world that still sentences juveniles to life without                        parole.

• Youth prosecuted and incarcerated in adult facilities are at dramatically greater risk of sexual assaults                  and are 36-times more likely to commit suicide than youth in juvenile detention.


California Habeas Project to Receive Advocacy Award from Peace Over Violence on October 28

Written October 30th, 2011 by

On October 28, the California Habeas Project will be receiving a humanitarian award for advocacy from Peace Over Violence, a sexual and domestic violence, stalking, child abuse, and youth violence prevention center headquartered in Los Angeles. Norma Cumpian, a former PCJP client and domestic abuse survivor, will be presenting the award.

For more information, click here.


Crime After Crime Screening, October 26

Written September 27th, 2011 by

USC Law’s Post Conviction Justice Project, Entertainment Law Society, Life Sentence Films and Outside the Box [Office] are holding a special screening of Crime After Crime, an official selection of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, on October 26 at 7:00 p.m.

A discussion will follow with Yoav Potash, director, producer and editor of Crime After Crime and Joshua Saffran, attorney for Deborah Peagler, the main character in the movie. Heidi Rummel, director of USC Law’s Post-Conviction Justice Project will provide an introduction.

The film chronicles the legal battle of Deborah Peagler, a woman brutally abused by her boyfriend, and sentenced to 25 years-to-life for her connection to his murder.

The screening is free and open to the public. It will be held at USC School of Cinematic Arts Complex, Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108, George Lucas Building, USC School of Cinematic Arts, 900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007.


Visit the movie’s official website:




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