Youths serving life without parole get second chance in California
Courts can review their cases after 15 years and lower their sentence to 25 years to life
NBC News and news services
updated 9/30/2012 6:13:36 PM ET
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law on Sunday a measure that grants juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison without parole the chance to petition for their release after serving 25 years.
Roughly 300 inmates in California's prison system have been sentenced to a lifetime behind bars for offenses committed as teenagers, according to the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Leland Yee, a Democrat from San Francisco.
Those inmates will now be eligible for parole after serving at least 25 years in prison.
The courts can review their cases after 15 years in prison and lower their sentence to 25 years to life if the juvenile offenders demonstrate remorse and work towards rehabilitation.
"The governor's signature ... is emotional for both the supporters and the opposition, but I am proud that today California said we believe all kids, even those we had given up on in the past, are deserving of a second chance," Yee said in a statement.
Juvenile murderer ruling reopens 'traumatic wounds'
The California District Attorney's Association opposed the bill, saying it applies almost exclusively to 16- or 17-year-olds convicted of first-degree murder with special circumstances, and that life without the possibility of parole is an appropriate sentence for them.
Other opponents say the bill is unfair to victims' families. Allowing the possibility of parole would force the survivors to relive their experience as they fight against parole.
"Before, we had life without possibility of parole -- without," said Maggie Elvey of Sacramento, who helped organize opposition to the bill. "It's so sad that they're taking the justice away."
She said survivors like herself were told that their loved one's murderers would never be released from prison.
"It's not fair to go retroactive back to all those killers," she said.
The law will take effect on Jan. 1.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles as unconstitutional "cruel and unusual" punishment. But the ruling didn't affect California's law because it already gives judges the discretion to impose a sentence of 25 years-to-life.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/49233283/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/youths-serving-life-without-parole-get-second-chance-california/#.UGn1vVGvGbg