California makes strides in limiting extreme sentences for youth; Senate and Governor should act quickly to approve SB9

Today was a historic day in California as both the Assembly and the California Supreme Court took concrete steps toward scaling back extreme sentences for children.

The Assembly made significant strides toward justice for children in approving SB 9, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, which would allow people sentenced to life in prison without parole as children an opportunity to petition for resentencing, while the California Supreme Court ruled in The People v. Rodrigo Caballero that a long term-of-years sentence, in which a youth would not be eligible for parole during his or her lifetime, is unconstitutional when imposed on youth convicted of non-homicide crimes.

“With today’s ruling in Caballero and the Assembly’s passage of the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, lawmakers in California have sent a clear message that children are different from adults, and the unique characteristics of children can no longer be ignored in the context of sentencing,” said Jody Kent Lavy, Director & National Coordinator of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.

The Fair Sentencing for Youth Act would allow people who were under age 18 at the time of their crimes to petition for review of their sentences to determine whether they will receive an opportunity to come before the parole board.  If resentenced, they would have to serve a minimum of 25 years in prison before parole eligibility. The bill reflects growing consensus that young people are not simply little adults, and their unique characteristics as children require them to be treated differently than adults.

The Senate and governor should act now to approve the bill and ensure that California’s laws recognize the capacity of children to mature and become rehabilitated and require that their youth be considered in sentencing.

“We urge Governor Brown to follow the lead of the California Assembly and states across the country that are scaling back extreme approaches to youth crime, which disregard what science and common sense tell us about children’s unique capacity to grow and change over time,” said Kent Lavy.  “The Fair Sentencing for Youth Act ensures youth are held accountable for their crimes in a way that reflects the distinct characteristics of youth, with a focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society.”

We also applaud today’s unanimous ruling in The People v. Rodrigo Caballero by the California Supreme Court, which found that a 110-year sentence for a young person convicted of attempted murder unconstitutional citing the Graham v. Florida decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court banned life-without-parole sentences for youth convicted of non-homicide crimes. The California Supreme Court found that, like a life-without-parole sentence, this extreme sentence violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  The California Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States to rule on the issue of long term-of-years sentences under Graham, and reiterated that youth are not as culpable as adults because they are still growing and maturing.

The case was brought by Rodrigo Caballero, who was sentenced to 110 years in prison after he was convicted of attempted murder. The California Supreme Court ruled that because Caballero was required to serve more than a century in prison, he would not live long enough to “demonstrate growth and maturity” to try to secure his release, as required by Graham.

Today’s ruling comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Miller v. Alabama issued in June, which banned automatic life-without-parole sentences for youth.

“It is heartening to see the courts and legislatures moving in the right direction,” said Kent Lavy. “Children in California, and across the nation, who were once told they were only worthy of certain death in prison now have hope.”

California: Chance for Justice for Youth

California Supreme Court Opinion in The People v. Rodrigo Caballero