Fair Sentencing for Youth



Recent Court Cases on Extreme Sentences for Youth

    People v. Gutierrez & People v. Moffett

    To be heard by California Supreme Court in 2013

    In January 3, 2013, the California Supreme Court granted review in two cases about juveniles and life without parole. The Court will decide whether Miller v. Alabama applies in California and if California Penal Code Section 190.5(b) violates the Eighth Amendment. The Court’s decision in this case will likely affect everyone who was sentenced under 190.5, that is, every juvenile sentenced to life without parole for a special circumstances murder.

    People v. Caballero

    On August 16, 2012, the California Supreme Court held that a sentence of 110 years to life was the same as life without parole. As a result, to sentence a juvenile to that sentence for a nonhomicide offense is unconstitutional under the US Supreme Court case, Graham v. Florida.

    Rodrigo Caballero was 16 at the time of three attempted murders. He was convicted and  his original sentence would have meant that he would have not been eligible to go before the parole board for over 100 years.  People v. Caballero (2012) 55 Cal.4th 262.

    Miller v. Alabama

    On June 25, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court found that “mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishments.’” The Court did not outlaw all life without parole sentences for juveniles, but it held that such sentences cannot be automatic or mandatory. It is still possible for a judge to decide that the facts of the case are so extreme, and the juvenile is so without potential for rehabilitation, that life without parole is an appropriate sentence. But the Court said it expects the sentence will be “uncommon,” and a court or jury must “take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.”

    Although it is still possible for a court to sentence a juvenile to life without parole after Miller, what Miller requires is that judges consider how juveniles are different from adults. Before sentencing a youth to life without parole, the court must give a lot of weight to the “the hallmark features” of youth, the family and home environment, the circumstances of the homicide offense, and how the defendant’s youthfulness affected the criminal proceedings.

    The Supreme Court combined two cases, Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs. The legal citation for these cases is Miller v. Alabama (2012) 132 S.Ct. 2455.

    Briefs in Support of the Miller case

    Many organizations and individuals submitted “friend of the court” (amicus) briefs to the Supreme Court  in support of the  youth who are sentenced to LWOP.  Law enforcement, victim family members, religious groups,  scientists, educators, disability rights activists, and groups like the the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, Human Rights Watch, Mental Health America, National Association of Social Workers, and many others all signed on to briefs arguing that the court should find in favor of the young people in these cases.  You can read these briefs here.

    Graham v. Florida

    In 2010, the United States Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment does not permit the imposition of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for youth under the age of 18 in cases involving a non-homicide crime.  Terrance Graham, the petitioner in the case, was 17 years old when he pleaded guilty to armed burglary with assault or battery and attempted armed-robbery.  When his trial court judge later found that Graham violated his probation by committing a home invasion robbery and other related offenses, it sentenced him to life without parole.

    In California, there were approximately four people sentenced to juvenile life without parole  for nonhomicide cases. They have been resentenced to parole-eligible sentences. The total number of   juvenile life without parole cases in California is approximately 335 as of March, 2013. Read the full opinion: Graham v. Florida

    Briefs in Support of the Graham case

    Many organizations and individuals submitted “friend of the court” (amicus) briefs to the Supreme Court  in support of youth who are sentenced to LWOP.  You can read these briefs here.