Bill to allow parole for juveniles sentenced to life passes legislature

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AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Senator Leland Yee's (D-San Francisco) amendment would allow inmates who've been convicted of murder or other serious crimes to petition a judge for reconsideration of their sentences after they’ve served 15 years in prison.

Juveniles sentenced to life without parole in California could get a second chance at freedom under a bill passed by the state legislature.

The State Senate voted 21-16 to approve Assembly amendments to Senate Bill 9. The measure by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) lets inmates who've been convicted of murder or other serious crimes petition a judge for reconsideration of their sentences after they’ve served 15 years in prison.

The bill allows the judge to decide whether the inmate has shown remorse and no longer poses a threat to others. A judge who makes that determination could then decide to shorten the inmate's sentence to 25 years to life with a chance for parole.

In a statement released after SB 9 passed, Senator Yee said the measure "is not a get-out-of-jail-free card."

"It is an incredibly modest proposal that respects victims, international law, and the fact that children have a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults," said Yee.

309 inmates in California are serving sentences of life without possibility of parole for homicides they committed as juveniles, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. All of them are now adults.

Senator Joel Anderson (R- San Diego) says just because they were young when they murdered doesn't mean they deserve any leniency or compassion.

"I believe that we should be compassionate but the compassion needs to fall the correct way: on the victims and the victim’s families—not on the perpetrator" Anderson said.

SB 9 now heads to Governor Brown, who hasn't indicated whether he’ll sign it.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down life sentences given to two juvenile offenders.

The justices ruled that automatically requiring juvenile offenders to serve life sentences without a chance at parole was “cruel and unusual punishment.” The decision invalidated laws in dozens of states that mandated a life term for all murderers, including juveniles.

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