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August 19, 2010

California legislature considering bill to eliminate juve LWOP for any crimes

The Supreme Court in Graham declared unconstitutional the imposition of life-without-parole for juvenile offenders who commit nonhomicide offenses.  Now, as detailed in this article, the California legislature is considering a bill to eliminate juve LWOP for any crime.  The piece is headlined "Bill would let juvenile criminals seek leniency," and here are excerpts:

When Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee talks about SB399, he inevitably points to the case of Sara Kruzan.  In 1994, at age 16, Kruzan killed her alleged pimp three years after she was forced into prostitution.  The Riverside girl was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to spend the rest of her life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Under SB399, juvenile offenders such as Kruzan, now a 32-year-old prison inmate, would be allowed to ask a court to review their case after 10 years in prison, and could potentially get their sentence reduced to 25 years to life. The bill -- a watered-down version of Yee's original proposal, which would have barred life imprisonment for all juveniles -- has been approved by the state Senate and is set to be taken up by the Assembly as soon as Thursday....

Opponents, including the California District Attorneys Association and the Assembly Republican Caucus, flatly reject those contentions.  They argue that the current system works and that only the "worst of the worst" are eligible for life without parole now.

Scott Thorpe, the association's CEO, noted that juveniles are considered for lifetime sentences if they are tried as adults. "We're talking about the most serious types of crimes, and we're also talking about defendants who, because of a number of factors, have been determined to deserve at least eligibility for that punishment.  We're talking about first-degree murderers," he said.

Supporters, however, say juveniles are different from adults and should be treated as such. They are more likely to be influenced by other people and don't have the same ability to grasp foresight and consequences, said Yee, a child psychologist.  And, he said, their brains are still developing, giving them a larger capacity for rehabilitation than adults. "We're letting prisoners out because of overcrowding -- ought we not at least look at children and see if they are deserving to be let out?" Yee asked.

Elizabeth Calvin of Human Rights Watch and other supporters also argued that juveniles tend to receive harsher sentences than adults for the same crimes, because they are less likely to agree to plea deals, don't always understand their rights or refuse to accept responsibility if they were present for, but did not actually commit, a murder.

The bill would only allow some people to apply for the reduced sentence. For example, a defendant who had previously been convicted of assault or other violent crimes might not be eligible.  If a sentence was reduced, a defendant would have to go through the normal process -- a review before a parole board and the governor -- before they could be paroled.  "This bill is so narrowly drawn -- it's modest in what it's attempting," said Calvin.  "One of the things that makes it different from other early release schemes is that there would be very careful consideration of each case."

In California, approximately 250 people who were juveniles when they committed their crimes are serving lifetime prison sentences without the possibility of parole.  Calvin said that nearly half of those defendants are not actually murderers but were convicted of murder because they were present and participating in some other illegal activity when someone was killed, and that most had no prior criminal convictions.

The District Attorneys Association disputed those numbers, saying they were based on interviews with inmates and other anecdotal evidence.  The vast majority, Thorpe said, are murderers....

Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Penn Valley (Nevada County) -- the only Republican to support the bill in the Senate -- said all of the arguments overlook one simple question: "Do we believe in rehabilitation or don't we?" he asked. "I think the younger you are, the more of a chance you have to reprogram.... For me, it's just a matter of fairness.  If all we want to do is punish people, OK, let's put them away for good.  But I don't believe that's what society really wants."

Notably, it appears that California's editorial pages are all supportive of this bill:

August 19, 2010 at 08:33 AM | Permalink

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Comments

"Do we believe in rehabilitation or don't we?" he asked. "I think the younger you are, the more of a chance you have to reprogram.... For me, it's just a matter of fairness. If all we want to do is punish people, OK, let's put them away for good. But I don't believe that's what society really wants."

See the app predicting murder again. The younger the age of the murderer, the greater the likelihood of repetition. And heck no, we do not believe in rehab. Where is the evidence it helps do anything but generate a lot of government jobs?

All released juv murderers to the street of this traitor, Aanestad.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 19, 2010 9:23:13 AM

"See the app predicting murder again."

There was nothing in that app about the the risk after being crime free 25 years later. Indeed, I think the app applied to the risk while assessing current crimes, for example, in bail considerations. In other words, if a LWOP juve does not commit any violence while incarcerated, that would suggest the risk is much lower 25 years later. And murderers have the lowest recidivism rate anyway.

A just deserts argument does not equal a current risk argument. The prison guard union will probably kill this bill anyway.

Posted by: George | Aug 19, 2010 1:40:17 PM

I'm fine with eliminating Juve LWOP for many crimes, in fact SCOTUS has already done this, but ALL crimes? Do you really want teenage spree killers or child killers to get out?

Posted by: MikeinCT | Aug 19, 2010 1:49:57 PM

The bill wouldn't necessarily "free" anyone. It would allow juveniles serving life sentences to go before a judge after 10 years, who might say they can go before the parole board in another 15 years, which might release them. But probably wouldn't unless a lot changes between now and then; I believe I've read that California parole boards currently recommend release in <1% of lifer cases. I'm not sure the practical result would be for "teenage spree killers or child killers to get out."

Posted by: Sara Mayeux | Aug 20, 2010 5:24:51 PM

@Sara Mayeux
I'm sorry, but you just contradicted yourself. You said it won't lead to teenage killers getting out. Then you said they will have the 'chance' to get out. Isn't that the same thing? Even if it's hard to do?

Posted by: MikeinCT | Aug 20, 2010 11:03:52 PM

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