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California Supreme Court considers whether a 175-year sentence is the same as life without parole

The California Supreme Court will decide what
The California Supreme Court will decide what "life without parole" means for juveniles.
Steve Rhodes/Flickr (by cc-nc-nd)

The California Supreme Court is currently considering a case that will determine what the state considers "life without parole."

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional. The court previously decided, in Graham v. Florida in 2010, that life without parole could only be on the table for juveniles in murder cases. But what about sentencing a child to 175 years in prison?

The case, People v. Nunez, involves a 14-year-old convicted of aggravated kidnapping and four counts of attempted murder. Antonio Nunez was sentenced to five consecutive life terms in prison, meaning he would first become eligible for parole in 175 years.

He's appealing that sentence as unconstitutional — a violation of the Supreme Court's decision in Graham v. Florida. The state attorney, meanwhile, argues that his sentence technically doesn't constitute life without parole, as he will have the opportunity to get out — but only if he lives a long, record-breaking life.

The appeals court determined that Nunez should be resentenced, because 175 years in prison denied him "a meaningful opportunity for release within his lifetime." They indicated a sentence of 35 years to life would be appropriate. Now, it's up to the California Supreme Court to decide if this apparent legal loophole will remain in place.