Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Judicial Discretion to Alter Sentences of Lifer Juveniles?

The ball that initiated its roll after Roper v. Simmons, the case abolishing the death penalty for juveniles, continues rolling. More recently, the Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that Life Without Parole for juveniles was constitutionally appropriate only for murder. And now, a new Senate bill aims at providing the court with the possibility to reconsider sentences of juveniles sent to Life Without Parole.

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 aprisoner'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 ageat 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 recalland 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 defendant's statement is true, as specified. The bill would apply retroactively, as specified.

The Chron adds some details:

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.

Senator Yee has been attentive to issue of juvenile justice. Another bill he authored aims at providing institutionalized juveniles with treatment for substance abuse.

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