In a 4-3 decision, the majority in People v. Padilla (May 26, 2022, no. S263375) --- Cal.5th ---, started with the proposition that California’s Prop 57, which requires minors to be charged in juvenile court, is retroactive in all nonfinal cases. But when is a case “final”? Here, Padilla, who at age 16 murdered his mother by stabbing her 45 times, was convicted way back in 1999. That seems pretty final, right?
Turns out, “finality” is not quite literal, but more a term of legal art. The majority was more comfortable with blurring the lines than was the dissent, which is why the 4-3 split.
What is surprising about this case is that the high court justices were so evenly split on the question of what makes a judgment “final” — a foundational point of appellate procedure.
The upshot of the majority opinion is that, once a judgment has been successfully reopened to review via a collateral attack, all bets are off, and the judgment is no longer final. So the Prop 57 challenge was available, even to attack the underlying charges — despite the fact that these had been beyond the scope of the collateral challenge.
The upshot of the dissenting opinion is that, although a judgment may be challenged via collateral attack, the review and remedies available should be limited to those available by the collateral challenge. So here, the collateral challenge did not reach the underlying charges, so these should remain “final” and beyond appellate review.