The California Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a challenge to a criminal sentence of 50 years to life for a juvenile convicted of murder who argued that the punishment violated a U.S. Supreme Court decision because it was the equivalent of life without parole and required by law.
In a unanimous ruling, the California high court cited a state law that gives juvenile offenders the right to a parole hearing within 25 years.
In addition, the law requires the parole board to consider a defendant's youth at the time of the crime, Associate Justice Goodwin Liu wrote.
As a result, it renders "moot" the defendant's constitutional challenge, he said.
The ruling came amid heightened scrutiny of sentences for juveniles. The U.S. Supreme Court in a 2012 decision said children are more likely to be impetuous, fail to appreciate risks and be vulnerable to peer pressure and home environment.
It threw out mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles, though it left the door open for individual judges to issue the sentence against juveniles in murder cases, but only if they consider the mitigating factors of youth.
Tyris Franklin, the California defendant, had argued that his mandatory 50-year-to-life sentence violated the ruling because it was the equivalent of life without parole and prevented the judge from considering mitigating factors.
His attorney, Gene Vorobyov, said Thursday the parole law was not an adequate remedy to his client's unconstitutional sentence.
A judge should consider the mitigating factors of youth during sentencing and not leave that to an administrative hearing 25 years down the road, he said.
Franklin was 16 in 2011 when prosecutors say he shot and killed another 16-year-old whom Franklin accused of involvement with a gang in Richmond that he said was terrorizing his family.
He was tried as an adult and sentenced in 2012 following his conviction on murder and firearms charges.
Vorobyov said there were numerous mitigating factors in the case, including that Franklin's family was harassed and threatened by gang members in the neighborhood.
This story has been updated.