Correction: A statement about sentencing of juveniles was wrongly attributed in an earlier version of this story. Daniel Horowitz, whose wife was murdered by a juvenile, questioned “whether the remorse these juveniles show is sincere,” according to the office of state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo. The quote, contained in an email from Blakeslee’s office, was wrongly attributed to the senator.
The Central Coast’s Sacramento legislators oppose a bill that would end life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.
SB 9 would allow courts to review such cases after 15 years. It passed a committee vote last week and could go soon to the full state Assembly.
If the bill, authored by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, passes the Assembly, it would then go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.
If he signs it into law, it could lead to some juvenile prisoners receiving a new minimum sentence of 25 years to life. To qualify for the review under the legislation, the convict would have to show remorse and be working toward rehabilitation.
There are 290 people in California serving life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles.
While the bill’s supporters call it humane, Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian and state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, both San Luis Obispo Republicans, oppose it.
Yee, who is a child psychologist, has attempted similar legislation before. This session’s vote count is again down to a small group of undecided Democratic lawmakers. No Republicans are expected to vote for the bill.
In an email to The Tribune, Achadjian wrote that the bill “will almost exclusively apply to persons who were convicted of first-degree murder under the most egregious circumstances.”
Achadjian wrote that there already are statutes that allow the reduction of such sentences.
“Like most law enforcement groups,” he wrote, “I believe current law offers safeguards against improperly sentencing a minor to life without parole.”
Blakeslee, too, wrote, that there are current safeguards against sentencing such minors improperly. He added that prosecutors and sentencing judges have discretion in charging and sentencing.
Blakeslee also said the bill’s backers should consider its potential effect on the victims’ families.
Finally, Blakeslee said, recidivism rates among California criminals are very high.
Daniel Horowitz, whose wife was murdered by a juvenile, questioned “whether the remorse these juveniles show is sincere,” according to Blakeslee's office.
Supporters of SB 9 include child advocates, mental health experts, faith communities and civil rights groups.
“In California, a sentence of life without parole is a sentence to die in prison,” said Elizabeth Calvin, children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch.
“Teenagers are still developing. No one — not a judge, a psychologist or a doctor — can look at a 16-year-old and be sure how that young person will turn out as an adult,” she said.
“It makes sense to re-examine these cases when the individual has grown up and becomes an adult,” she added.
Karen de Sa of the San Jose Mercury News contributed to this report.