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In re Wilson

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Seventh Division

January 22, 2015

In re DERRICK LYNN WILSON, on Habeas Corpus.


[As modified Jan. 30, 2015]

ORIGINAL PROCEEDING on a petition for writ of habeas corpus. Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. KA028967 Robert Armstrong, Judge.

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Post-Conviction Justice Project, University of Southern California Law School, Michael J. Brennan and Heidi L. Rummer for Petitioner.

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Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, Assistant Attorney General, Steven D. Matthews and Taylor Nguyen, Deputy Attorneys General, for Respondent.


WOODS, Acting P. J.

Petitioner Derrick Lynn Wilson seeks habeas corpus relief asserting, among other contentions, that pursuant to the principles announced in Miller v. Alabama (2012) 567 U.S. __ [183 L.Ed.2d 407, 132 S.Ct. 2455] (Miller), the life imprisonment without parole (LWOP) sentence he received in 1996 for a crime he committed when he was 17 years old violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Wilson further argues he is entitled to be resentenced based on the individual sentencing factors that the Miller court directed trial courts to consider when sentencing a juvenile offender for a homicide conviction. We conclude that Wilson is entitled to habeas corpus relief, and therefore grant the petition for writ of habeas corpus, and remand for resentencing.


A. The Crimes[1]

On August 22, 1995, three masked males, later identified as Petitioner Wilson, Bobby White and Jamon Carr, approached the Chino Valley Bank in Pomona. Wilson, White and Carr were all 17 years old at the time. They were armed with handguns. As they walked towards the bank, one of the young men fired at the security guard who stood outside the bank near the ATM machine. The security guard was not hit by the shots; he fled on foot and then alerted police.

Once inside the bank, one of the young men told the customers to “hit the deck.” The young men then jumped over the teller counter; one of them grabbed Theresa Hernandez, a bank employee. They ordered Hernandez to give them money and pointed to the teller counter. Hernandez responded that the money was not there. At some point during the encounter, Hernandez was struck in the head. She dropped her keys, and as she bent down to retrieve them, one of the three assailants shot and killed her.

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Wilson, Carr and White ran out of the bank. They fled in a car driven by Quentin Smith. Another car occupied by Kareem Jamal Brown also waited nearby for the trio.[2]

Shortly after the robbery, White admitted to his girlfriend that he had participated in the crimes and shot Hernandez during the robbery. White said that he shot Hernandez because he thought that Hernandez was activating an alarm. Petitioner Wilson admitted to his fiancée that he had “pistol whipped” the victim.

Brown was arrested.[3] Wilson, Carr and White turned themselves in to the police a few days after the robbery.

B. Wilson’s Background[4]

Wilson was born on September 7, 1977. He lived with his parents and two younger siblings in Inglewood, and then later in south central Los Angeles.

According to Wilson and his mother, his family life was very structured; his parents were overprotective and were strict disciplinarians. Wilson’s mother chose his friends, rarely allowed him to watch television, and would not let him play outside with other neighborhood children. He was not allowed to spend the night at a friend’s home. Until he was in high school, Wilson attended Los Angeles Christian School, where his mother worked.

When Wilson was a pre-teen he began to feel frustrated by his school and strict home life; Wilson felt isolated and resentful because of the restrictions placed on him by his parents. He claimed that he was teased in the neighborhood for attending a charter school and because he wore a school uniform. Wilson began going out at night without his parents’ knowledge, and fought with his parents when they attempted to control his actions. Wilson’s father would often hit him with a belt or switch.

Wilson began having behavioral problems at his school. His parents decided to send him to a public high school. He initially attended El Camino

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Real Charter High School in the San Fernando Valley. By his early teens, Wilson began using marijuana and alcohol on a regular basis. Wilson was truant from school. He associated with older males in his neighborhood who had made money by selling drugs and committing crimes. His parents would lock him out of the house for violating the house rules.

In ninth grade Wilson was expelled from El Camino Real Charter High School for fighting. Wilson’s mother enrolled him at Washington High School in Los Angeles. She later discovered that Wilson was not attending classes at Washington High School.

Wilson ran away to his paternal aunt’s house, after his mother found drug paraphernalia in his clothing. Wilson moved back and forth between his parents’ home and various relatives for a number of months. After one of Wilson’s friends was involved in a shooting, his mother sent him to Arizona to stay with another maternal aunt. Wilson soon found himself in trouble with his aunt for skipping school so he returned to Los Angeles. Wilson emulated the lifestyle of his friends who sold and abused drugs, consumed alcohol and did not attend school. At age 15, he joined the East Coast Crips gang and became involved in gang activity.

During this period, Wilson continued to move from place to place, staying with extended family, with friends, on the streets, or in motels. When Wilson was 17 years old, he rented an apartment and began dating Keisha Kelly. Wilson soon moved in with Ms. Kelly. He helped her pay the bills and buy groceries and school supplies for her children.

Wilson met two of his codefendants, Carr and White, through one of Ms. Kelly’s friends. Wilson and his codefendants began spending time together and were involved in some minor robberies. Brown, who was 22 years old at the time, approached Carr, White, and Wilson, and proposed that they rob a bank in Pomona. According to Wilson, Brown picked them up the night before the robbery, and took them to his house, where they spent the night. Brown also supplied guns to use in the robbery.

C. Conviction, Sentencing, Appeal and Instant Petition for Habeas Corpus Petition

Wilson and his three codefendants were charged with first degree murder (with a robbery special circumstance); attempted robbery with an allegation that White personally used a firearm; and attempted murder. Wilson was tried with his codefendants Brown, Carr, and White. On April 12, 1996, Wilson

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was found guilty of felony murder in the first degree, in violation of Penal Code section 187, subdivision (a); [5] attempted second degree robbery, and attempted murder.

On April 30, 1996, Wilson and his codefendants appeared for a sentencing hearing. During the proceeding, family members and friends of the victim testified and asked the court to impose an LWOP sentence on defendants. No evidence or witnesses were presented on behalf of Wilson during that hearing. The court continued the sentencing, indicating that any mitigating evidence on behalf of Wilson and his codefendants could be offered at a later date.

On June 7, 1996, Wilson again appeared for sentencing. On this date, Wilson attempted to substitute out his attorney for another attorney. The court denied the motion. No individuals spoke on Wilson’s behalf during that proceeding. The matter was continued to September 6, 1996, to allow Wilson to participate in a psychiatric evaluation.

Wilson did not participate in the evaluation, however. At the continued sentencing hearing, Wilson’s counsel provided the court with a mitigation statement, and asked the court to exercise its discretion to sentence Wilson to 25 years to life rather than LWOP. The mitigation statement noted that: (1) Wilson was a minor at the time of the offense and induced by others to participate in the crime; (2) Wilson had no prior criminal record; (3) at the time of his arrest he was still pursuing his high school diploma and was employed; and (4) Wilson voluntarily acknowledged his wrongdoing at an early stage of the criminal process.

At sentencing, the court considered evidence submitted by the prosecution that: the crime involved great violence and bodily harm; Wilson was armed; the victim was in a vulnerable position; Wilson was a leader; Wilson was a participant in a planned robbery; and the crime included an attempted taking of great monetary value.

The court imposed on Wilson the sentence of LWOP. In explaining the decision, the court stated: “In this matter, we did have a sentencing hearing and there were many people who gave the court the benefit of input, and of course, I tried the case and heard all of the facts. [¶] And in this matter, the jury found the defendant guilty of the attempted robbery and the attempted murder of the guard and the murder of the victim. And even though he was not the shooter, the evidence was clear that he was a very active participant and that he did, in fact, pistol-whip the victim before the co-defendant

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actually shot her to death. [¶] That the jury found the special circumstances to be true would mandate life without the possibility of parole but for the fact of the defendant’s age. And the court does have some discretion in that manner. [¶] So in passing the sentence, I want to make it clear that I have considered that possibility. I’ve exercised that discretion and I find that in view of the totality of the circumstances in this case that the defendant does not merit such consideration and the verdict of the jury is compelling and, therefore, as to the count of murder, the defendant is sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.”

On July 20, 1998, this court affirmed the judgment on direct appeal (People v. White, supra, No. B104556).

On May 6, 2013, Wilson filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Los Angeles County Superior Court (case No. KA028967), challenging the constitutionality of his LWOP sentence in light of the United States Supreme Court’s opinion in Miller. Wilson argued that Miller requires reexamination of the constitutionality of his sentence, including the validity of the statutory scheme the sentencing court used to select the punishment and the adequacy of the sentencing court’s consideration of the distinctive mitigating features of youth addressed in the Miller opinion. Wilson also requested that the superior court defer further briefing ...

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