(image courtesy the Fair Sentencing of Youth website)
CCC has been asked, and readily agreed, to endorse SB9, the Fair Sentencing of Youth Act
. The bill
, introduced by Senator Leland Yee, battles the evil of LWOP sentences for juveniles by making them subject to judicial review:
Existing law provides that the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation or the Board of Parole Hearings, or both, may, for specified reasons, recommend to the court that a prisoner’s sentence be recalled, and that a court may recall a prisoner’s sentence.
This bill would authorize a prisoner who was under 18 years of age at the time of committing an offense for which the prisoner was sentenced to life without parole to submit a petition for recall and resentencing to the sentencing court, and to the prosecuting agency, as specified. The bill would establish certain criteria, at least one of which shall be asserted in the petition, to be considered when a court decides whether to conduct a hearing on the petition for recall and resentencing and additional criteria to be considered by the court when deciding whether to grant the petition. The bill would require the court to hold a hearing if the court finds that the statements in the defendant’s petition are true, as specified. The bill would apply retroactively, as specified.
Some FAQs provided by us:
What is this about?
Fancy name aside, this bill would allow the court to consider a petition for “recall and resentencing” by a person on LWOP who was a juvenile when he or she committed the crime. The court would look at the person’s arguments first, then, when appropriate, hold a hearing.
Why does this make sense?
The Supreme Court has acknowledged that juveniles differ from adults in how they cognitively perceive their actions and the repercussions of those actions. This was the reason why, in Roper v. Simmons (2005)
, the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for juveniles. There is something profoundly cruel and unfair about locking up a young person for the rest of their life, which could be a very, very long time, without offering him or her any glimmer of hope, given the differences in how juveniles and adults process information.
Doesn’t this violate the Supreme Court’s position that LWOP for juveniles is constitutional?
The Supreme Court has not, so far, had an opportunity to decide that juveniles cannot be sentenced to LWOP. Therefore, at this point, we do not know what the Supreme Court would decide if confronted with the constitutionality question of LWOP for all juveniles. It is important to note that under Graham v. Florida (2010)
, it is not permitted to sentence juvenile offenders to LWOP for nonhomicide crimes. And, whatever the federal position on this may be, it is merely a bottom threshold; states can always guarantee more rights than the constitution allows. In fact, six jurisdictions do not allow LWOP for juveniles at all
. Should SB9 pass, CA sentencing structure would be more reasonable and humane, but still more severe than in those six jurisdictions, because it would leave LWOP to judicial discretion.
So, are all juveniles on LWOP going to go free? Wouldn’t this hurt public safety?
Of course not. First, the final decision on resentencing is up to the judge, who will consider the circumstances and person in question. Second, someone who is resentenced could still end up spending a substantial period in prison. And third, the risk to public safety greatly depends upon the particular person. As a general statement, criminality dramatically decreases with age; we know that most criminals “grow out of it” as they mature. The lengthy incarceration until their death, therefore, burdens California’s correctional budget with no demonstrable detrimental effect on public safety.
What does it mean that the bill applies retroactively? Is that fair?
In this case, retroactive application is the fairest policy possible. It would allow the courts to reevaluate the sentences of California inmates who are currently on LWOP. It would have been very unfair to allow this option only to future juveniles sentenced by the system, because there is no material difference between their situation and that of present inmates.
CCC is happy to answer more questions. Please, feel free to add your own questions in the comment section, so that we are all better informed.