California court rules juveniles' sentences unconstitutional

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A divided California Supreme Court on Monday struck down sentences against two juveniles convicted of kidnapping and raping teenage girls, saying the punishments were unconstitutional because they did not provide teens a chance for parole until they were over 65 years old.

The sentences — 50 years to life and 58 years to life — violate a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said juveniles should have a chance to show they have changed and are ready to re-enter society, Associate Justice Goodwin Liu said in the 4-3 decision.

"Even assuming defendants' parole eligibility dates are within their expected lifespans, the chance for release would come near the end of their lives," Liu said. "Even if released, they will have spent the vast majority of adulthood in prison."

Liu said such sentences violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

With the decision, the lower court will have to re-sentence the teens.

The ruling came amid heightened scrutiny of sentences for juveniles around the country. The 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down life without parole sentences for juveniles who commit crimes other than homicide.

The U.S. Supreme Court said children are more likely to be impetuous, fail to appreciate risks and be vulnerable to peer pressure and home environment.

Citing that ruling, Liu said juvenile sentences must recognize the offender's capacity for change and limited moral culpability, offer hope of restoration and a chance for fulfillment outside prison walls, and give the juvenile an incentive to become a responsible individual.

Monday's decision built on a previous California Supreme Court ruling that held that a juvenile defendant's sentence of 110 years to life for attempted murder was the functional equivalent of life without parole and therefore unconstitutional.

 The attorney general's office argued that Monday's case was different because the defendants would get an opportunity for parole within their expected lifetimes.

An email to the attorney general's office for comment was not immediately returned.  

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Photo: Getty Images

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