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August 22, 2010

"Difference in sentencing of two juveniles highlights difficult issue"

The title of this post is the headline of this local story out of California.  Here is how it gets started:

A 14-year-old south Modesto boy who killed a young father at a child's birthday party will likely die in prison. Angel Cabanillas, now 19, stands to serve at least 100 years behind bars. But just 40 miles south in Merced, a boy who was 15 when he committed a fatal drive-by to impress his fellow gang members is set to be sentenced Monday to 31 years in prison. He could be out by the time he's 42.

The disparity in their sentences reflects a divide in how judges and prosecutors handle violent crimes committed by children. The topic of whether minors can be sentenced to die in prison has recently come under scrutiny by the U.S. Supreme Court and the California Legislature, and their discussions could change the rules for cases like Cabanillas.'

In May, the Supreme Court ruled juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole for non-homicide crimes. Denying children who commit lesser crimes the opportunity to ever get out of prison constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and runs counter to a worldwide consensus against such harsh sentences for juveniles, the court wrote. But while the decision did not specifically address what can happen to children convicted of murder, legal experts say recent court rulings regarding juvenile justice have shown a trend toward leniency.

August 22, 2010 at 09:33 AM | Permalink


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"leniency" to the criminal, not to the society.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 22, 2010 9:54:39 AM

One thing this article reveals is the need for more uniformity and consistency in sentencing. As more and more instances of wildly inconsistent sentences for similar behavior come to light, perhaps the notion of mandatory guidelines will regain popularity. It certainly should.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 22, 2010 10:33:14 AM

Bill Otis,

That doesn't bother me so much as that appropriate penalties at least be available. Whether they are actually imposed in any particular case doesn't bother me nearly so much as the judiciary's whittling away bit by bit at what are, I believe, entirely correct penalties both legally and ethically.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Aug 22, 2010 12:19:52 PM

Soronel --

I agree. I was just pointing to one aspect of the story that highlights a different issue often discussed here, to wit, mandatory vs. advisory sentencing guidelines.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 22, 2010 12:50:23 PM

Life isn't fair. That people concern themselves with some kind of cosmic fairness with respect to how murderers are treated is interesting, to say the least.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 22, 2010 2:31:14 PM

I don't believe that mandatory guidelines/sentencing is the solution to this problem. In fact, there are plenty of cons to be argued with mandatory sentencing. However, there needs to be some sort of consistency in our justice system which can be difficult to achieve when every case can be quite fact specific. Even the mitigating factors in each case vary wildly which may call for some leniency.

Posted by: Natalie | Aug 23, 2010 11:36:43 AM

The boy facing the 100 year sentence, who was 14 years old at the time was also mentally ill and unable to obtain treatment that he tried to obtain:

"Cabanillas was released from juvenile hall - where a psychiatrist prescribed an anti-psychotic medication along with pills for depression and a sleeping disorder - only five days before the shooting spree. Cabanillas called for help the day after his release because he didn't have any medications, but he didn't get the pills until after his arrest, when a psychiatrist diagnosed him with depression and auditory hallucinations."

Crying fury at mentally ill fourteen year olds does not match culpability to the sentence.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Aug 23, 2010 8:18:09 PM

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