Houman Fakhimi

California Juvenile Offender Likely to Have Sentence Reduced

It's been nearly 22 years since a 16-year-old from Long Beach was convicted on nine counts of rape and sentenced to more than 250 years in prison for a series of sexual assaults carried out in the neighborhood over a period of about a month.

Our Santa Ana juvenile criminal defense attorneys know that it's been almost three years since the U.S. Supreme Court barred life sentences for most juvenile offenders.

Now, a multi-judge appellate panel in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the high court's ruling should be applied retroactively to juveniles who were effectively given sentences of life without the possibility of parole.

In this case, the juvenile defendant did not have a previous criminal record. However, in addition to the rape counts, he was also charged with numerous counts of forced oral copulation, robbery and attempted robbery, kidnapping with the intent of committing felony sex offense, forced sodomy, penetration of the genitals with a foreign object and motor vehicle theft. Making matters worse for him, he used a firearm during each of his crimes.

A team of psychologists that had conducted an evaluation of the suspect prior to his sentencing concluded he could be rehabilitated, though one professional disagreed.

Having been tried as an adult, his sentence was severe. However, he challenged his sentence following the U.S. Supreme Court decision. Initially, the state appellate court found that his case didn't apply because he had been sentenced to a fixed term for a large number of crimes. Then a federal magistrate heard the case, and decided against the defendant on the grounds that the ruling could not be applied retroactively.

This ruling by the 9th Circuit changes that.

The panel found that the sentence was unconstitutional because it is at direct odds with the supreme court's assertion that youthful offenders have to be provided with some "meaningful" opportunity to come back into society some day.

With the current sentencing, the defendant would have to live until he was 144 years-old before he would even be eligible for parole consideration. It's effectively a life sentence.

The appellate panel has directed that the case be sent back to a lower federal court so the defendant can be re-sentenced.

According to court records, some 205,000 juveniles are arrested in California annually. Of those, about half will face juvenile charges. A number of other cases went through diversion programs and did not end up resulting in criminal sanctions.

That's good news because the vast majority aren't going to face any real incarceration time. In theory, the goal of the juvenile justice system is to reform and rehabilitate. However, the goal of the adult justice system is punishment.

About 1,200 end up being processed through the adult courts. These cases are primarily going to involve serious and violent felony offenses.

Whenever possible, even for serious offenses, our attorneys will attempt to argue that a case should stay before the juvenile delinquency court. The potential penalties there will be much less severe.

Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are arrested in Santa Ana.

Additional Resources:

Long Beach rapist sentenced as teen could be eligible for release, Aug. 7, 2013, By Maura Dolan, The Los Angeles Times.