California Votes to Limit Juvenile Prison Sentences

by CarlosSantiago on August 29, 2012

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(US criminal law) In a unanimous vote, the California Supreme Court has ruled that the state must limit prison sentences for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes, a declaration that directly reflects pre-existing U.S. criminal law. Their decision was based on facts presented by Graham v. Florida, a 2010 United States Supreme Court case in which the decision was made that juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses could not be sentenced to life without parole because such an action would violate the 8th Amendment.

The issue came to light in People v. Caballero, a case involving 16-year-old Roderigo Caballero, a young man who opened fire on 3 boys from a rival gang and was sentenced to a total of 110 years in jail. The California Supreme Court voted that sentencing a juvenile to 110 years-to-life was essentially the same as sentencing them to life in prison and could be considered “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Graham v. Florida

The decision cited in the Caballero case pertained to Terrance Graham, a 16-year-old male who committed armed burglary and attempted armed robbery in addition to violating probationary measures.  The young man was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole, but a higher court argued that non-homicide crimes were morally different than homicide crimes and juveniles should not face such extreme penalties for non-homicide crimes.

The Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment was added to the United States Constitution in 1791 and states that courts must respect fair trials by penalizing those convicted with fair consequences. Specifically, this amendment is to ensure that convicted individuals are not subjected to “cruel and unusual punishments,” which includes punishments that are too severe for the crime in question. This is the basis of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida and the reason cited in the California Supreme Court’s decision to extend this consideration to their own court system.

Future Repercussions

The California Supreme Court made it clear that their decision on People vs. Caballero should be retroactively extended to juveniles who were given life-long sentences in previous cases. In the future, it could also seriously affect the way that California courts assess the appropriate penalties for non-homicide juvenile crimes.  In future cases, a criminal lawyer may be able to use this precedent as part of their defense in order to ensure that juveniles are not saddled with unfair and lengthy imprisonment or other penalties.

About the Author:
Carlos Santiago is an avid legal blogger. He contributes regularly to

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