Associated Press: California's minor life-without-parole law blasted as unfair

July 31, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Five years ago, the nation's high court banned mandatory life-without-parole sentences for those under 18 convicted of murder. Last year, the court said the ruling was retroactive for the more than 2,000 offenders serving such sentences nationwide, and that all but the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects "permanent incorrigibility" should have a chance at parole one day.

The court found that the harshest punishments levied against adult criminals may be unconstitutionally cruel and unusual for juveniles because of their lack of development and potential for change.

Based on that argument, California passed a law in 2012 allowing juvenile lifers to ask a judge for reduced sentences of 25 years to life with the possibility of parole. But the multi-step process doesn't guarantee a hearing, and California's justices ruled last year that it therefore fails to meet the Supreme Court's decisions.

Senators this spring approved a bill by Democratic state Sens. Ricardo Lara and Holly Mitchell to bring California law in line with the high court's rulings. It has a good chance of passing the state Assembly later this summer. It would require that offenders sentenced as juveniles be automatically considered for parole during their 25th year in prison. About three dozen offenders would be eligible for hearings over the next three years, though there's no guarantee they'd be paroled.

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