California’s minor life-without-parole law blasted as unfair


SACRAMENTO — Leif Taylor was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole not once, but twice, for killing a man while stealing a bicycle when he was 16.

His first sentence was overturned when an appeals court ruled that his confession to fatally shooting William Shadden in 1993 was coerced by investigators. But he was resentenced to the same no-parole term after civil rights attorneys say the courts ignored his youth and difficult childhood.

Taylor’s case, critics say, demonstrates how California law fails to follow recent rulings by both the United States and California supreme courts and the need for a new law that would automatically give youthful offenders a chance at parole after 25 years.

Five years ago, the nation’s high court banned mandatory life-without-parole sentences for those under 18 convicted of murder. Last year, the court said the ruling was retroactive for the more than 2,000 offenders serving such sentences nationwide, and that all but the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects “permanent incorrigibility” should have a chance at parole one day.

The court found that the harshest punishments levied against adult criminals may be unconstitutionally cruel and unusual for juveniles because of their lack of development and potential for change.

Based on that argument, California passed a law in 2012 allowing juvenile lifers to ask a judge for reduced sentences of 25 years to life with the possibility of parole. But the multistep process doesn’t guarantee a hearing, and California’s justices ruled last year that it therefore fails to meet the Supreme Court’s decisions.

Senators this spring approved a bill by Democratic state Sens. Ricardo Lara and Holly Mitchell to bring California law in line with the high court’s rulings. It has a good chance of passing the state Assembly later this summer. It would require that offenders sentenced as juveniles be automatically considered for parole during their 25th…

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