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September 2, 2010

California state appeals court finds unconstitutional 84-year prison term for 16-year-old car-jacker

As detailed in this San Francisco Chronicle piece, which is headlined "Teen's 84-year sentence overturned by court," at least one California appeals court has extended the Supreme Court's ruling in Graham to a (long) term-of-years sentence. Here is the start of the press article:

After the Legislature killed a Bay Area lawmaker's bill to give juveniles serving life sentences a chance at future parole, a state appeals court took a step in the other direction Wednesday by overturning the 84-year prison term of a 16-year-old gang member convicted of robbery and carjacking.

The sentence is the practical equivalent of life without possible parole and violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, said the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles. The court told the trial judge to resentence Victor Mendez to a term that would give him a chance to gain his freedom someday if he shows maturity and rehabilitation.

The ruling followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision in May that banned life-without-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicide. That ruling applied to four youths in California prisons, but did not affect another 250 inmates serving the same sentence for murders committed at ages 16 or 17.

The discussion of Graham starts at page 15 of the full slip opinion in California v. Mendez, No. B217683 (Cal. 2d Dist. App. Sept 1, 2010) (available here).  Here is a snippet:

We disagree with Mendez that his de facto LWOP sentence should be reversed pursuant to the holding in Graham. As the People note, Graham expressly limited its holding to juveniles actually sentenced to LWOP.... Mendez‘s sentence is not technically an LWOP sentence, and therefore not controlled by Graham. We are nevertheless guided by the principles set forth in Graham in evaluating Mendez‘s claim that his sentence is cruel and unusual....

Even without Graham, we would conclude that Mendez‘s sentence is unconstitutional when evaluated under the traditional "proportionality" test used by the federal and state courts when evaluating individual claims that a sentence is cruel and unusual.  Although articulated slightly differently, both standards prohibit punishment that is "grossly disproportionate" to the crime or the individual culpability of the defendant....

In reaching our conclusion that Mendez‘s sentence is the equivalent of LWOP and that it is cruel and unusual punishment, we are mindful of the fact that successful challenges to sentences on the grounds of cruel and unusual punishment are rare.  Nevertheless, we find this to be such a rare case, and we therefore remand the matter to the trial court for reconsideration of Mendez‘s sentence.

September 2, 2010 at 06:39 PM | Permalink


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If released, the defendant should be placed in a house next to the residence of the judges.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 2, 2010 9:29:13 PM

I would strongly support bringing all such released defendants to the streets where the judge live. Parole should release these defendants as soon as possible to halfway houses seized under Kelo on the streets where these judges live. If the judges complain, the judges should be accused of racism, investigated and sued for racism. I hope that the defendants then invite their gang friends to party on that block.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 2, 2010 10:59:30 PM

why it sounds like the right sentence to me. IF you go by the supreme courts ruling that those under 18 cant' be sentenced to life without parole. This was basically the same sentence just under a new name and the state got called on it.

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 3, 2010 2:19:47 AM

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