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No 50-Year Sentences for Juveniles (That Don't Murder)

By George Khoury, Esq. on February 28, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

California's Supreme Court has ruled that juvenile's who don't intentionally kill people should not be sentenced to more than 50 years behind bars. The court explained that a 50 plus year sentence for a juvenile that hasn't murdered anyone is cruel and unusual.

The ruling came in the cases of two teens sentenced to 50 and 58 years, respectively, for the rape and kidnapping of two teenage girls. Neither conviction was overturned, but both convicts will be resentenced by the trial court in accordance with the state's highest court's guidance. Notably, the chief justice dissented, agreeing with the prosecutors that 50 and 58 years were not excessively long sentences given the severity of the crimes.

Too Young to Life Sentence

As the Supreme Court has made clear, juvenile convicts that haven't intentionally killed should not be sentenced to life without parole. The High Court explained, back in 2010, that juveniles are not mature enough, are vulnerable, and can still develop their characters.

The California Supreme Court agreed, and took that sentiment a step further to pull back sentences of 50 years or longer. California law already provides that juvenile offenders can apply for parole, even if convicted of murder, after 25 years. Furthermore, California also provides potential parole eligibility after 15 years to inmates who were convicted for crimes committed under the age of 23.

Lifespan of a Life Sentence

Notably, in the chief justice's dissent, the fact that the two teens would actually have the chance at release within their lifetimes was significant. Even though that time would not come until the autumn years of the petitioners' lives, the justice was just fine with leaving the juvenile offenders with only a potential decade or two left to live, assuming the best.

The majority opined that release at the ages of 66 and 74 would leave the once youthful offenders near the end of their lives.

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