The California Supreme Court recently weighed in on life without parole sentences for juveniles that have been convicted of certain offenses. The court ruled that sentencing of juveniles will require taking into consideration a variety of factors – particularly factors unique to a juvenile’s status. However, life without parole may still be handed down in a rare number of cases.
There has been concern that the United States is the only nation to sentence individuals under the age of 18 to life without parole. There are currently more than 2,500 individuals serving such sentences concerning conviction for juvenile crimes, and there are 300 of such individuals in California. Though this ruling does not change that situation, it does require California judges to take into consideration that adults and children are different from each other. The court cited a number of holdings from U.S. Supreme Court cases where children were looked upon as being a distinct class.
The California legislature passed a law in 2012 that would allow review of cases where juveniles were sentenced to life without parole. However, this review would take place after the individual charged had served 15 and 25 years in prison. Unfortunately, there have also seems to be racial disparities in California involving individuals that are serving such sentences.
The reason why there is such concern is because children are much more likely to grow and transform than are adults. It’s for this reason that attorneys and courts handle juvenile crimes differently. These sorts of cases require delicate handling as we do not want to see mistakes made that could cost a young person a chance to escape their circumstances.
Source: eNews Park Forest, “California: Landmark Ruling for Youth Offenders,” May 6, 2014