Life without parole for children?
Courts, lawmakers, DAs at odds over sentencing for young killers
A 14-year-old boy who killed a young father at a child’s birthday party in south Modesto likely will die in prison. Angel Cabanillas, now 19, stands to serve at least 100 years behind bars.
But just 40 miles south in Merced, a boy who was 15 when he committed a fatal drive-by to impress his fellow gang members is set to be sentenced Monday to 31 years in prison. He could be out by the time he’s 42.
The disparity in their sentences reflects a divide in how judges and prosecutors handle violent crimes committed by children. Whether minors can be sentenced to die in prison has recently come under scrutiny by the U.S. Supreme Court and the California Legislature, and their discussions could change the rules for cases like Cabanillas.’
In May, the high court ruled juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole for non-homicide crimes. Denying children who commit lesser crimes the opportunity to ever get out of prison constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and runs counter to a worldwide consensus against such harsh sentences for juveniles, the court wrote.
The decision did not specifically address what can happen to children convicted of murder, but legal experts say recent court rulings regarding juvenile justice have shown a trend toward leniency. In 2005, the Supreme Court banned use of the death penalty against minors in all cases.
“The court has made clear that juveniles are different than adults,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine.
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