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U.S. Supreme Court says it's unconstitutional to automatically sentence teens to life without parole

5:17 PM, Jun 25, 2012   |    comments
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By Nannette Miranda
ABC7

SACRAMENTO, CA - For the two dozen or so states that automatically hand out life-without-parole, or L-wop, sentences to juveniles convicted of murder, the U.S. Supreme Court said that's unconstitutional.

In fact, the majority of justices declared that L-WOP is cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment given kids' brains and self-control are not fully developed enough to make good choices.

"What it does is, it sends a signal, in my view, a signal that we remain a humane society that says in the final analysis, children are different than adults and need to be treated differently," Univ. of Pacific McGeorge School of Law Prof. John Myers said.

In California, life-without-parole sentences are not automatic for kids who kill, but judges do have discretion in handing that out; the ruling preserves that option.

More than 300 inmates are in our state prison for murders they committed under the age of 18.

The number is 2,500 nationwide.

Crime victims are outraged; they said juveniles who commit adult crimes should be treated like adults.

"You're telling me their brain is not developed enough to know that you don't murder?" Crime Victims United spokesperson Harriet Salarno said. "What kind of message are we sending out, particularly to the gangs?"

It's unclear what the ruling means for California murderers convicted as minors, but some legal experts think lawyers could use it to get sentences changed to life with parole.

Child psychologist and State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, is still pursuing legislation allowing certain L-WOP killers convicted as minors to at least get a periodic review for release.

"While they may have committed adult crimes, the fact is ... they're still kids," Yee said.

Once again, California-native Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Republican-appointee, provided the swing vote, 5 to 4, as he does in many close, high-profile cases.

ABC7/KGO

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