For the second time in as many years, the state Assembly defeated a bill today that would have offered some juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison the opportunity for release – a measure that was adamantly opposed by Republicans and victims’ rights groups.
The bill’s failure followed more than an hour of contentious debate and several rounds of voting in the lower house, and came despite intense lobbying by Democrats backing the measure, including Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles. At one point after coming within one vote of passing, several Democrats pulled back their support, and SB9 ultimately failed by five votes, 36-36.
A spokesman for Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who authored the bill, said supporters will likely bring the measure up for reconsideration before the Legislature’s session ends Sept. 9.
The bill would give inmates who committed a crime as a minor and were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole the hope for eventual release. Under SB9, an offender who has been in prison for at least 15 years, has worked toward rehabilitation and can prove they are remorseful could ask the court to reduce their sentence. If the court agrees, the inmate would receive a new sentence of 25-years to life in prison, and after serving at least 25 years, could appeal to the state’s parole board for release.
About 295 California inmates are serving juvenile life without parole sentences- though backers do not think the majority would meet the bill’s requirements for securing a new sentence, and note that even if they did, there is no guarantee the parole board will let them out. Supporters have focused on the approximately 45 percent of those inmates that were convicted under California’s aiding and abetting law, which allows for a first degree murder conviction of accomplices. They cite cases such as that of 30-year-old Christian Bracamontes, who at the age of 16 was with a friend who shot and killed another teen during a marijuana robbery in Riverside County. Bracamontes is serving life without parole, while the shooter struck a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to 29-years to life.
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, who carried the bill in the lower house, said the measure is a “simple matter.”
“You either believe in redemption or you don’t,” he said. “This bill asks the question, ‘Are you are the same person that you were 25 years ago?’ It asks the question, ‘Are you perfect, or are you a better person than you were 25 years ago? It asks the question, ‘Have you ever made a mistake, and have you ever learned from that mistake?'”
Cedillo said members who believe in a human’s ability to change should not have a problem supporting the bill; and he and other supporters cited research showing that adolescent brains are still developing.
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