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May 11, 2009

California bill seeks to eliminate juve LWOP

As detailed in this Sacramento Bee article, which is headlined "Calif. bill would give young killers rehab chance," a California state legislator is seeking to eliminate LWOP sentences for juveniles. Here are some of the interesting particulars:

State Sen. Leland Yee believes that wayward kids should have a second chance to make good - even when they commit murder or other serious crimes.  Yee, a San Francisco Democrat who has a doctorate in child psychology, has introduced legislation that would allow courts to reduce the sentences of inmates who were given terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole when they were minors....

The bill, which is on the Senate Appropriations Committee's agenda on Monday, would allow a prisoner who was sentenced to life without parole as a minor to petition a court for a new sentencing hearing after the inmate had served at least 10 years.

The court would have to grant the hearing -- but not necessarily agree to change the sentence -- if it found that the inmate met at least three of eight criteria.  Those standards include the fact that inmate was an accessory to murder but not the actual killer, did not have prior convictions for assault or other violent crimes and had demonstrated remorse.

Elizabeth Calvin, children's rights advocate with Human Rights Watch, an international group that investigates allegations of human rights violations, said there are about 250 California inmates who are serving life without parole sentences handed down when they were minors....

Scott Thorpe, chief executive officer of the California District Attorneys Association, one of the law enforcement groups that opposes the bill, said the standards that courts must consider in determining whether to grant a new sentencing hearing are too weak.... "You're going to set up a system where hearings are going to be mandated which are mini-trials.... We're just concerned about the cost of this and the ease of which it would be established to have these kinds of hearings. The standards are too low."

It is interesting to speculate — and useful for researchers to follow — whether legislative proposals to eliminate juve LWOP will get more or less traction now that the Supreme Court has decided to take up two juve LWOP cases with its cert grants last week in Graham and Sullivan (basics here).  Importantly, because both Graham and Sullivan involve non-homicide crimes, the Supreme Court is unlikely in those cases to address all uses of LWOP for kids and thus bills addressing juve LWOP more broadly are likely to be very important and consequential no matter what the Supreme Court eventually does in these Eighth Amendment cases.

Some other posts on juve LWOP and on recent SCOTUS grants:

May 11, 2009 at 08:51 AM | Permalink


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These 250 cases cost the State of California at least $112,500.000 per year.

Posted by: Tom McGee | May 11, 2009 10:46:06 AM

Not one word about murder victims.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 11, 2009 9:20:41 PM

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