April 18, 2007
California considering eliminating LWOP for juveniles
A helpful reader sent me a link to this interesting article discussing a California bill to eliminate life-without-parole (LWOP) sentences for juveniles. Here are the highlights:
After testimony from a teen murderer who later became an ordained priest, a state Senate committee narrowly approved legislation Tuesday that would prevent juveniles from being sentenced to prison for life without the possibility of release.
State Sen. Leland Yee's legislation survived its first committee hearing as Yee argued that young killers can be rehabilitated. Yee, D-San Francisco, is seeking to end life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentences for teenagers in a measure that would allow for the possibility of parole for teen murderers after 25 years behind bars. The bill would overturn a component of Proposition 115, a tough-on-crime ballot initiative passed by voters in 1990.
The legislation pits law enforcement groups, which argue that there are teens who commit such horrendous crimes that they should spend the rest of their lives in prison, against some child psychiatrists and religious groups, which argue that teens' brains are still developing and even those who kill should be given a chance at redemption. Parole would be granted only to inmates who convinced both the state's parole board and governor that they deserve to be released.
Supporting the bill Tuesday was James Tramel, who argued that his life story proved that even murderers can change their ways and contribute to society. Tramel was convicted of murder in 1985 for his role in the killing of a homeless man in Santa Barbara. He was granted parole last year, though, after becoming an ordained Episcopal priest while behind bars. Tramel had conducted services for the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Berkeley by phone from a prison in Vacaville....
Law enforcement groups oppose Yee's bill, however, arguing that judges have discretion now to sentence someone younger than 18 to life in prison without parole or allow for the possibility of parole. Teens who receive the lifetime sentence deserve it, said John Lovell, lobbyist for the California Police Chiefs Association. "We are talking about 16- and 17-year-olds who have evidenced such a level of sophistication and malice that they are being tried as an adult,'' Lovell said. "We make a mistake when we talk of these people as children and youth. They are people who have committed horrific crimes."
The number of juveniles sentenced to life in prison is minimal; the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said Tuesday there are 227. But the group noted that African American youths receive the life sentence at 22 times the rate of white youth.
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Tracked on May 8, 2007 8:08:06 AM
I support this legislation but my understanding is that, under the Cal Const., an intiative cannot be amended (let alone overturned) by legislation. So this legislation (overturning a component of Prop 115) would be invalid. What am I missing here?
Posted by: D | Apr 18, 2007 6:24:02 PM
Under Roper this statute is already unconstitutional. That decision makes clear that "16- and 17-year-olds" do not have "such a level of sophistication and malice that they [may be] tried as an adult."
Posted by: rothmatisseko | Apr 19, 2007 12:39:07 AM
Posted that too soon -- my point is limited to sentences that throw away the life of the accused.
Posted by: rothmatisseko | Apr 19, 2007 12:41:15 AM
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Posted by: Betty Schneider | Apr 19, 2007 1:22:55 AM