California Legislature Can Do More to Help Kids

California has always been ahead of the curve. Fresh on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama, which prohibits mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences (JLWOP), the California Supreme Court announced that a 110-year sentence for a non-homicide crime was the equivalent of juvenile life without parole and thus unconstitutional in the case of People v. Caballero. Caballero, who was 16 at the time his crimes occurred, would have had to serve 110 years in prison before even having the possibility of going before a parole board. The California Court’s opinion, released August 16th 2012, relies heavily on the reasoning put forth by the United States Supreme Court two years earlier in Graham v. Florida, where it flatly prohibited a JLWOP sentence for a non-homicide crime. The Caballero Court noted that developments in psychology show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds, that a life without parole sentence serves a very limited penological purpose for juveniles, and that children have the greatest possibility of rehabilitation.

For Kids in Courtrooms, the United States Is Still Cruel and Unusual

Despite the recent Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama, the United States will remain the only country in the world to sentence children to spend their lives in prison. Like countries worldwide, our laws prohibiting children from marrying, voting and drinking recognize that those under the age of 18 are categorically different from adults — a difference we fail to apply to their treatment under criminal law. Enshrined in laws in 28 states and in federal court, children in the United States could be transferred to adult court, tried as adults, and subject to mandatory sentencing schemes. In the Miller decision the Court ruled that a mandatory sentence of life without parole is unconstitutional when applied to juveniles for homicide crimes. Under this decision, judges in all U.S. courts are required to take into account factors such as the defendant’s age, background, involvement in the crime, and possibility of rehabilitation before issuing a sentence.