…life sentences are coming under increased attack from activists, lawmakers and even the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently struck down mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles as unconstitutional “cruel and unusual” punishment. On Thursday, the California Assembly passed a bill by the slimmest of margins that would give juvenile lifers in that state a shot at freedom.
“Because their brain is still developing, they have the ability to rehabilitate,” said Michael Harris, a senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law. “They are more likely to rehabilitate than an adult.”
Despite the legal rulings and the legislative activity, some survivors of people killed by juveniles are pushing back and arguing that a life sentence is appropriate punishment for juveniles who commit heinous murders.
“They say they deserve a second chance, but the victims don’t get a second chance,” said Maggie Elvey, whose husband was murdered in 1993 by two teens during the robbery of his gun shop in Vista, Calif.
She called Thursday a “sad day” because of the California Assembly’s passage of a bill introduced by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. The bill allows lifers to seek a sentence of 25-years-to-life with a chance for parole after serving 15 years. It passed the state Senate last year but failed repeatedly in the Assembly before Democrat lawmakers approved it by a single vote after a heated debate. The bill moves back to the state Senate for final approval. Passage is expected.
Criminal defense lawyer Daniel Horowitz, whose wife was murdered in 2005 by a 16 year old now serving life without parole, largely sides with Elvey.
Releasing most of the thousands of juvenile lifers “would open the gates of hell,” Horowitz said.
“We aren’t trying to punish these young people,” he said. “We are trying to protect the public from this happening again.”
Here is the case that started the ball rolling. Yes, her case can be an exception, but should it dictate the rule? Why would everyone be released because of what was deemed a too harsh sentence for one young girl?