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New Hope For Juveniles Sentenced To Life Without Parole

Above: Earlier this year, prosecutors agreed to reduce Sara Kruzan’s first-degree murder charge to second-degree, which made her eligible for parole.

Aired 8/27/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Guests

Elizabeth Calvin, Senior Advocate Children's Rights Division Human Rights Watch in Los Angeles.

San Diego County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Greenberg

Transcript

Opposition To Senate Bill 9

The California District Attorney's Association sent this letter to Governor Brown urging him to veto SB9.

California State Senator Joel Anderson, (R) Santee, sent this letter to the governor opposing SB9.

Hope for criminals who were sentenced as juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole hangs in the balance.

That's because Gov. Jerry Brown could veto SB9, a bill that would allow judges to reconsider juveniles' sentences after they serve at least 15 years in prison.

The bill was passed last week by California legislators.

Juveniles as young as 14 can be tried as adults in California criminal court. And if a 16- or 17-year-old juvenile is convicted of murder, he or she can be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Elizabeth Calvin, a senior advocate in the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch in Los Angeles, told KPBS that once someone is given this sentence, there is no chance for review.

"It really is a sentence to die in prison," she said.

The SB9 bill would allow judges to go back and review past sentences and "look at who this individual has grown up and become," she said.

The judge could then re-sentence that person to a minimum of 25 years to life, which means the first time he or she would go before a parole board would be in 25 years, she said.

Calvin said about 300 people who were convicted as juveniles are currently serving life without parole in California.

Victims rights groups and others in the criminal justice system say a life sentence for a juvenile involved in the death of another human being is just.

But other groups, including some prosecutors, disagree.

The California District Attorney's Association is asking Brown not to sign the bill.

Dave Greenberg, a chief deputy district attorney for San Diego County, told KPBS that's because they believe the appropriate punishments are already in place.

He said before juveniles receive this sentence, the process described in SB9 has already taken place.

He added that someone's sentence can also be commuted, which happened with Sara Kruzan, who killed her pimp at age 16.

Claire Trageser contributed to this report.

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