California law on sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole is being reexamined due to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. Except for Somalia, South Sudan and the United States, most countries in the world prohibit juveniles from being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole when the juvenile offender committed the crime when he or she was under 18 years of age. Criminal defense attorneys throughout the United States including California have fought very hard not only to get not guilty verdicts in murder or similar cases holding life penalties without parole for juveniles but also to get such sentences reduced based upon the juvenile’s age. Not until the United States Supreme Court case of Miller v. Alabama in 2012 have juveniles had a fair chance at sentencing to obtain a sentence of less than life without the possibility of parole. In the Miller v. Alabama case, the United States supreme court found that mandatory life sentences without parole of juveniles was unconstitutional explaining that juveniles should be treated differently than adults when it comes to serious felony charges.
California Supreme Court Mandates Juvenile Sentences be Changed in LWOP Cases
Just this week, the California Supreme Court finally implemented the ruling in Miller v. Alabama giving guidance to courts and criminal defense lawyers across California as to sentencing of juveniles in serious felony cases where a juvenile offender is exposed to a sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of being paroled. The California Supreme Court gave more leeway to Superior Court judges throughout California to sentence juveniles to a term of less than life without parole. Specifically, the California Supreme Court acknowledged that juveniles should and can be sentenced differently than adults as they are not similarly situated. The Court found that a judge must look at 3 factors when determining a life sentence against a juvenile including:
· The immaturity of children and their underdeveloped sense of responsibility.
· The vulnerability of youth.
· The recognition that a youth’s character is not yet as well formed as an adult’s.
When a juvenile is charged with a crime where they are looking at a life sentence without parole, it is essential that they and their family seek the representation of an experienced criminal defense attorney who not only is familiar with sentencing but can give a juvenile the best chance of getting a charged dismissed or reduced which could save a juvenile from spending years of time in an adult state prison.
Getting a Juvenile Re-sentenced in a Life Without the Possibility of Parole Case
Ever since the United States Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Plata on May 23, 2011, the Governor of California has struggled to find an answer to the overcrowding issue in California prisons and has finally begun to release certain prisons early and/or who are eligible for parole. (see http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20140225/record-number-of-inmates-serving-life-sentences-leaving-california-prisons) Although, some prisoners with serious sentences including life sentences are being released do to prison overcrowding, if a person is serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for acts committed while they were a juvenile, up until now, even overcrowding could not get such a prisoner released. However, with the recent decision in Miler v. Alabama which is now being following by California courts, an experienced criminal defense attorney can attempt to get a juvenile’s sentenced changed from life without the possibility of parole to a lesser sentence by filing a post-trial petition such as a habeas corpus petition and/or request for resentencing.
A writ is an order from a higher court to a lower court judge or a governmental official. It can be used for issues for which an appeal does not provide a sufficient remedy. One of the most common types of “Writs” in the criminal context is a Writ of Habeas Corpus, which challenges the legality of the defendant’s imprisonment. The State Constitution of California and the United States Constitution both provide for Writs of Habeas Corpus (Therefore there are both State Habeas Corpus Petitions and Federal Habeas Corpus petitions). A Habeas Corpus petition may order a prison or warden to free the person or to end improper jail conditions, which violate the person’s civil rights.
With regards to re-sentencing, an experienced criminal defense lawyer probably cannot get a juvenile released with a court hearing where a judge weighs the new standards set out by the California Supreme Court. However, to get such a hearing can take time and a proper writ and/or application must be filed by a seasoned California criminal lawyer. For those family members who had no hope prior to the recent ruling by the California Supreme Court, you should contact a California Criminal Defense attorney immediately to determine the rights of your loved one and whether such person is eligible for re-sentencing under California’s new guidelines in cases where a juvenile is facing a life sentence without the possibility of parole.