Houman Fakhimi

Lengthy California Juvenile Criminal Sentences Reviewed

Juveniles serving the equivalent of life sentences for crimes that aren't murder are eligible to have their terms reviewed, following the California Supreme Court decision in People v. Caballero last year.

Our Irvine juvenile criminal defense lawyers understand many of those cases are now coming under request for review.

Also boosting their chances was the passage of Senate Bill 9, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The meausre allows some offenders serving sentence of life without parole for homicides committed prior to age 18 to petition the court for a re-hearing after they have served at least 15 years of incarceration.

As of 2009, there were nearly 2,625 Califiornia state inmates who were serving life terms having been sentenced as juveniles. Of those, more than 300 were serving terms of life without parole, according to the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center.

The shift in attitude - and in law - appears to stem from the fact that, first of all, juvenile crime is down significantly. Arrests of juveniles for violent offenses dropped 35 percent from 2006 to 2011, from about 17,000 to about 11,200. This allows people to begin viewing juvenile crime and punishment through the prism of rehabilitation, rather than punishment. There is a heightened recognition of the fact that juveniles who commit crimes truly are different than adults, and this is something that should be taken into account when it comes time for sentencing.

One of those cases being reconsidered is that of a 23-year-old Sacramento County man. Before he turned 18, he was sentenced to five felonies, one of those including attempted murder. The judge in his case setnenced him to a sentence of 85 years to life in prison. That means he won't be eligible for parole until he turns 99 years-old. However, these new measures allow for additional consideration. The judge who originally sentenced him is being asked to reconsider that sentence. His defense attorneys are arguing for a review after he's served 10 years. Prosecutors want to wait until he's at least 48 years-old.

The judge has yet to decide.

In the Caballaro case. The defendant was a 16-year-old schizophrenic street gang member, one of three convicted in Los Angeles County of attempted murder for opening gunfire on three gang rivals. One of those was struck and suffered serious injury. Caballaro was sentenced to three consecutive 15-to-life terms. He was also given a firearm enhancement of 20, 20 and 25-to-life. That brought his total sentence to 110 years-to-life.

In the end, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Caballaro was re-sentenced to 50 years-to-life, meaning he will be well into his 60s before he is eligible for parole. But at least he is no eligible.

One of the best ways to avoid one of these extensive setnences is to avoid having the case transferred to adult court. This may come down to a fitness hearing, at which time the judge will decide whether a juvenile is "fit" for the juvenile court system. The judge is going to look at a number of factors in these cases, including:

  • The degree of criminal sophistocation exhibited by the minor;
  • Whether it is possible the minor can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court's jurisdiction;
  • The previous delinquent history of the minor;
  • The success of previous attempts by juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor;
  • The gravity and/or circumstances of the offense alleged to have been committed.

Some of these are fairly straightforward and inarguable. However, other elements, which could have significant bearing on the ultimate decision, could be persuasively argued by an experienced criminal juvenile defense lawyer.

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