Southern California breaking news and trends

California Supreme Court: 110-year sentence for juvenile violates the law

California State Seal - Supreme court

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The California Supreme Court has overturned a 110-year sentence for a Los Angeles teen.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that when it comes to crime, children are different than adults. They're less able to understand their actions, more able to reform their ways, and are therefore less culpable for their actions.

Thats why in a case called Graham v. Florida, the court decided kids could not be sentenced to life without parole, except in murder cases, even though adults can receive the sentence for a variety of crimes.

But what about sentencing them to really, really long terms?

That issue came up in a case out of Los Angeles County, in which a 16-year-old shot at three rival gang members, wounding one in the shoulder. 

Rodrigo Caballero was convicted of three counts of attempted murder and sentenced to three consecutive terms. That meant Caballero would first become eligible for parole after 110 years in prison. Caballero appealed his sentence, arguing it violated the Graham ruling, which "holds that the Eighth Amendment requires the state to afford the juvenile offender a 'meaningful opportunity to obtain release.'"

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

California supreme court

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The California Supreme Court will decide what "life without parole" means for juveniles.

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.

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Change to juvenile prison time could save state millions

Gov. Jerry Brown

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California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state budget late Wednesday.

Deep inside the state budget signed Wednesday night, lies a small clause that could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars — and save juveniles in the state's youth correctional system years of incarceration.

Sumayyah Waheed of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights said juvenile "time adds," which were eliminated through the new budget, are disciplinary measures taken by correctional officers in the Division of Juvenile Justice.

When youth are sentenced to the state's juvenile prison system, they're generally given an indeterminate time to serve. A juvenile might be sentenced to a minimum in custody, like a year, with the date set for their first opportunity for parole. That date frequently gets bumped back, over and over, through time adds. Time adds, administered by a correctional officer, are not overseen by a judge or a parole board, and prevent juveniles from having the opportunity to be considered for release.

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The Supreme Court rules juvenile offenders should have a chance at parole

Courtesy of Equal Justice Initiative

Evan Miller (in the white shirt) was sentenced to life in prison for a crime he committed when he was 14.

The US Supreme Court Monday, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that almost all people convicted of crimes as juveniles should be allowed a chance at parole. California is among the 29 states that currently sentence at least some juveniles convicted of murder to life in prison with no possibility of getting out. In some states, it's the only possible sentence for murder crimes. 

In her opinion for the court, Justice Elena Kagan writes that the mandatory nature of these sentencing laws "runs afoul of our cases’ requirement of individualized sentencing for defendants facing the most serious penalties." She also points to scientific research showing that children's brains are not fully formed, meaning those convicted of crimes as children have less culpability and a greater "capacity for change" than adults. 

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