In People v. Caballero, Case No. S190647, filed August 16, 2012, the California Supreme Court held that a determinate sentence that exceeds the expected lifetime of the juvenile defendant (a total of 110 years to life in this case) violates the Eighth Amendment because it effectively denies a juvenile any opportunity to demonstrate rehabilitation. The Court relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinions in Graham v. Florida (2010) 560 U.S. __ [130 S.Ct.2011] and Miller v. Alabama (2012) 567 U.S. ____ [132 S.Ct. 2455] holding that no legitimate penological interest justifies a life without parole sentence for nonhomicide juvenile offenders, and that such a sentence violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
The California Court held:
“Consistent with the high court‟s holding in Graham, supra, 560 U.S. ___ [130 S.Ct. 2011], we conclude that sentencing a juvenile offender for a nonhomicide offense to a term of years with a parole eligibility date that falls outside the juvenile offender‟s natural life expectancy constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.” “Defendant in the present matter will become parole eligible over 100 years from now. (§ 3046, subd. (b) [requiring defendant serve a minimum of 110 years before becoming parole eligible].) Consequently, he would have no opportunity to “demonstrate growth and maturity” to try to secure his release, in contravention of Graham‟s dictate.”
“Under Graham‟s nonhomicide ruling, the sentencing court must consider all mitigating circumstances attendant in the juvenile‟s crime and life, including but not limited to his or her chronological age at the time of the crime, whether the juvenile offender was a direct perpetrator or an aider and abettor, and his or her physical and mental development, so that it can impose a time when the juvenile offender will be able to seek parole from the parole board. The Board of Parole Hearings will then determine whether the juvenile offender must be released from prison “based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” (Id. at p. ___ [130 S.Ct. at p. 2030].) Defendants who were sentenced for crimes they committed as juveniles who seek to modify life without parole or equivalent defacto sentences already imposed may file petitions for a writ of habeas corpus in the trial court in order to allow the court to weigh the mitigating evidence in determining the extent of incarceration required before parole hearings. Because every case will be different, we will not provide trial courts with a precise time frame for setting these future parole hearings in a nonhomicide case. However, the sentence must not violate the defendant‟s Eighth Amendment rights and must provide him or her a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation” under Graham‟s mandate.”
PJDC filed an amicus brief with the court, and Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center argued the amicus on behalf of PJDC: PJDC’s Caballero amicus brief.
The Court instructed that “[d]efendants who were sentenced for crimes they committed as juveniles who seek to modify life without parole or equivalent defacto sentences already imposed may file petitions for a writ of habeas corpus in the trial court.”
The majority opinion is brief (7 pages). Click on this link for the entire opinion: People v. Caballero.