Last year, the United States Supreme Court held in a deeply divided opinion that a sentence of life imprisonment without parole (LWOP) for any juvenile offender who did not commit a homicide was unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The court, however, expressly limited its holding to juveniles actually sentenced to LWOP, and excluded from its analysis other cases where juveniles could be potentially sentenced to lengthy term-of-years sentences. Although the Supreme Court made clear that its holding applied only to a very narrow category of cases where minors were actually sentenced to LWOP, the court’s analysis suggested that its holding might be applicable to other cases where minors had been sentenced to term-of-years, rather than LWOP.
In California, there is a split among appellate courts on the issue of whether the Supreme Court’s categorical rule prohibiting sentencing juvenile defenders in non-murder criminal cases to LWOP also applies to juveniles sentenced to lengthy term-of-years terms, for instance, 80 or 100 years’ imprisonment. In 2010, one California Court of Appeals ruled that a 16-year old minor, who was convicted of carjacking, assault with a firearm, and robbery with gang and firearm enhancements, could not be sentenced to 84 years to life in state prison. That court adopted a broad view articulated by the Supreme Court that juveniles must be given some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. Therefore, the minor’s lengthy sentence was de facto LWOP and not term-of-years, which effectively deprived him of even a remote possibility to be ever considered for release on parole.
In 2011, however, another Court of Appeals sharply disagreed with this interpretation of the United State Supreme Court’s decision. In this case, a jury also convicted a minor of several non-homicide offenses of attempted wilful, deliberate, and premeditated murder, and he was sentenced to 120 years to life in state prison. Relying on the 2010 decision, the minor argued that his sentence would not be completed within his lifetime, and, thus, he would not be given a meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. However, his argument was rejected because this court adopted a narrow application of the Supreme Court’s decision by holding that a juvenile offender, who received a term-of-years sentence that resulted in the functional equivalent of LWOP, might still be sentenced to a prison term that exceeded his or her life expectancy. The California Supreme Court is expected to resolve this split within the California appellate courts.
This office handles all types of matters related to juvenile delinquency (criminal) proceedings in San Diego County. For a free consultation, contact us at (619) 232-5122 or: [email protected].
For more information on the United States Supreme Court’s cases, see the following: Juvenile Law
For more information on juvenile matters, see the following: Juvenile Defense
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