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Parole consideration for the very worst juvenile killers

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A murderer a day shy of his 18th birthday is categorically exempt from a death sentence.  Should that arbitrary cut-off based on chronological age alone similarly exempt him from a true life-without-parole sentence, regardless of the circumstances of the crime and regardless of the length of his criminal record?  Incredibly, a bill to do just that has made it to the floor of the California Assembly.

Margaret Bengs has this article in the Sacramento Bee:

Prosecutors and judges already have discretion in seeking and imposing life-without-parole sentences and have reserved it for the "worst of the worst." Most teen criminals in California are tried in the juvenile court system and must be released at age 25. Of those tried in adult court, only first-degree murder with special circumstances can result in life without parole, and only for 16- and 17-year-olds. All states allow juveniles to be tried as adults in criminal court under certain circumstances, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
At the committee hearing, Heide Steiner, her voice cracking as she spoke, her 7-year-old son by her side, held up a photo of her husband, California Highway Patrol Officer Thomas Steiner, who was murdered by a 16-year-old with a semi-automatic weapon, a "hit" as a gang initiation.
Teen killers convicted in Sacramento County include Jimmy Siackasorn, who was 16 when he shot Sheriff's Deputy Vu Nguyen in the neck during a routine check in a gang neighborhood; Frank Abella, who was 17 when he and a friend kicked a disabled man in Rancho Cordova in the head and then shot him with a BB gun, 13 times in the torso and seven times in the face; and two 16-year-olds who beat a 90-year-old Sacramento grandmother to death.
In all these cases, trials have been conducted, witnesses and victims' families have testified, everyone has played by the rules.

The safety valve already built into the system is executive clemency.  That is the remedy for that very rare case where an LWOP sentence really should be considered.  If that remedy is presently not working as it should, then we can make it work as it should.

Instead of this legislation, a "simple review of sentences by a panel of experienced jurists for potential miscarriages of justice" could better accomplish the goals of those who "in good conscience support the principles that underlie SB 9," suggests Daniel Horowitz, a California defense attorney and the husband of Pamela Vitale, who was bludgeoned to death by a 16-year-old. In appropriate cases such a panel could recommend a pardon by the governor, he says.

The costs of this approach would be relatively minor, he says, and would spare the families of victims "the endless torture of hearing after hearing" where the death of their loved one is relived.

3 Comments

Why do politicians revel in the idea that kindness to cold-blooded killers and hardened criminals shows how enlightened they are?

The sad thing is that these politicians and "elites" are so into themselves and patting themselves on the back for helping killers that they are willing to pass a bill that burdens the victims families with repeated resentencing hearings every five years for 20 years. This comes on top of the trial, initial sentencing and appeals process.

The disgusting thing is that that do this because they know they will not succeed in getting rid of LWOP for juvenile killers entirely. Therefore in their determined pursuit they make others suffer more because they cannot get what they want (no juvi LWOP). They suggest that is enlightened, I would call that selfish.

What they're working toward is what they've wanted all along, to wit, no punishment for juveniles for anything. The shrewd way to get this is through the installment plan, and that's what this is.

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