CA High Court Upholds Juvie Murder Sentence

     (CN) — The California Supreme Court ruled that a 50-year-to-life sentence for a juvenile convicted of murder is constitutional because he will receive a parole hearing after 25 years of incarceration.
     The majority of the state high court agreed Tyris Lamar Franklin’s sentence does not equate to life in prison without any possibility of parole.
     In 2012, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment forbids mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile murderers. The decision in Miller v. Alabama rendered such sentences unconstitutional.
     Franklin was 16 years old when he shot and killed another teenager. He was involved in numerous altercations with a group of boys he lived near in the Richmond, Calif., Crescent Park housing project.
     The group, known as the Crescent Park gang, was first known to be armed when they fired shots into Franklin’s home while family members were inside, according to court records.
     Franklin later shot the victim, Gene Grisby, during a confrontation he instigated after Grisby allegedly jumped Franklin’s brother.
     He was convicted of first-degree murder in 2011 and was sentenced, with a firearm-discharge enhancement, to two consecutive 25-year-to life sentences, before the Miller decision.
     After the Supreme Court ruling, Franklin challenged the constitutionality of his 50-year-to-life sentence, which allows him to be eligible for parole after serving 25 years.
     Franklin grounded his constitutional challenge in the series of cases where the Supreme Court assigned constitutional significance to characteristics of youth that have now been substantiated through science, such as common sense.
     “Franklin would first become eligible for parole at age 66 under the sentence imposed by the trial court. That sentence was mandatory; the trial court had no discretion to consider Franklin’s youth as a mitigating factor,” Thursday’s California Supreme Court ruling states. “According to Franklin, the 50-year-to-life sentence means he will not experience any substantial period of normal adult life; instead, he will die in prison or have the possibility of geriatric release. He contends his sentence is the ‘functional equivalent’ of [life without parole] and that it was imposed without the protections set forth in Miller.”
     Senate Bill No. 260, passed to bring juvenile sentencing into conformity, was designed to ensure that youth offenders will be offered a parole hearing no more than 25 years into their incarceration.
     Writing for state high court, Justice Goodwin Liu said Franklin’s sentence does not need to be reconsidered or rewritten since it does not constitute life without parole as he has the opportunity to be considered for release when he is 41 years old.
     “Franklin is now serving a life sentence that includes a meaningful opportunity for release during his 25th year of incarceration,” Liu wrote. “Such a sentence is neither [life without parole] nor its functional equivalent.”
     Franklin also insisted that his record is incomplete since it is missing mitigation information that is now considered by courts, such as a youth’s maturity.
     The California Supreme Court remanded the case only “for a determination of whether Franklin was afforded sufficient opportunity to make a record of information relevant to his eventual youth offender parole hearing,” such as Franklin’s character and cognitive ability as well as his social and family background at the time of his offense.
     Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote a concurring and dissenting opinion, disagreeing only the decision to remand the case for a decision on Franklin’s record.
     “Indeed, holding periodic update hearings to evaluate a youthful offender’s progress towards parole suitability would also be beneficial. So, too, might it be for adult offenders,” Werdegar wrote. “But this court is not authorized to create and require such procedures simply because they might be a good idea.”
     Neither party’s representation responded to requests for comment Friday.

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