Today the California Assembly approved a bill and the California Supreme Court issued a decision that together will help scale back the extreme sentencing of young offenders in that state. Senate Bill 9 will allow juveniles sentenced to mandatory life without parole for homicides to petition for review and resentencing after they have served 15 years. Drafted in response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama, which ended mandatory JLWOP sentences for homicides, the bill will next go to the state senate for a vote and then to the governor for his signature.
Meanwhile, the California Supreme Court held unanimously in The People v. Rodrigo Caballero that a lengthy term-of-years sentence, in which a youth would not be eligible for parole during his or her lifetime, is unconstitutional when imposed for non-homicide crimes. The case involved a 16-year-old charged with attempted murder after wounding a rival gang member. Rodrigo Caballero was sentenced to 110 years in prison, which the court held violated the Eighth Amendment under Graham v. Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court case ending life without parole sentences for non-homicides.
The question of whether long term-of-years sentences are the legal equivalent of life-without-parole has been answered in different ways by the states (see, e.g., the 60 year sentences imposed by the governor of Iowa on prisoners formerly serving JLWOP for homicide). It may very well be the next juvenile sentencing issue confronted by the U.S. Supreme Court.