Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sentencing juvenile beyond natural life cruel and unusual

The California Supreme Court recently ruled that sentencing a juvenile to imprisonment – a term of years – with a parole eligibility date that falls past his natural life expectancy violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Graham v. Florida, which prohibited sentencing juveniles to life without parole for non-homicide convictions, the California court unanimously agreed that Rodrigo Caballero’s sentence of 110 years to life for three attempted murders with bodily injury deprived him of “a meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”

Caballero was 16 when he fired a handgun at three rival gang members, injuring one of them. According to the court, he would not become eligible for parole until 2112. The court interpreted Graham’s “flat ban” on life without parole sentences “applies to all nonhomicide cases involving juvenile offenders, including the term-of-years sentence that amounts to the functional equivalent of a life without parole sentence” such as Caballero’s.

This is an important ruling.  Although applicable only to California it addresses an issue that is going to up more frequently in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling banning mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles.

Consistent with Graham, the court said, “we conclude that sentencing a juvenile offender for a nonhomicide offense to a term of years without a parole eligibility date that falls outside the juvenile’s natural life expectancy constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”

The remedy for defendants who were sentenced for crimes they committed as juveniles who seek to modify their de facto life sentences file petitions for habeas corpus seeking resentencing.

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