Juvenile murderers sentenced to life in prison without parole have hope of being released in years to come under legislation signed today by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The measure, Senate Bill 9, would allow some offenders to petition for a resentencing hearing if they were minors when they committed a murder that landed them in a prison cell for life.
State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, narrowly managed to win legislative approval for the bill this year after shelving it in 2011 because of lawmakers' lack of consensus. Republicans opposed the proposal.
Under SB 9, offenders could not petition a court until they had served at least 15 years in prison, and they could not be released until they had served at least 25 years.
The bill would not apply to crimes in which the offender had a history of violence, the victim was tortured, or the victim was a law enforcement officer or firefighter.
In weighing whether to resentence a juvenile murderer, a judge would consider factors ranging from an offender's rehabilitation efforts to any mental illness or developmental disability that may have contributed to the crime.
Yee and other supporters argue that the functioning of a youth's brain differs from that of an adult, and that a child who commits even a heinous crime eventually should have the opportunity to prove maturation or rehabilitation.,
Nearly one of every two California youth convicted of murder did not actually kill the victim but were lookouts or were participating in another felony, such as robbery, when the homicide took place, according to Yee.
Opponents characterized SB 9 as a danger to public safety and painted it as offensive to the families of victims killed by juveniles.
About 300 youth offenders have been sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. To incarcerate them until death would cost the state close to $700 million, Yee contends.