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The California Supreme Court ruled in San Francisco today that a sentence of 110 years to life in prison for a man who committed three attempted murders at age 16 is unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. The court said a sentence that exceeds a juvenile’s expected life span is equivalent to life in prison without possibility of parole and violates a 2010 Supreme Court decision. In the 2010 ruling, the federal high court said it is unconstitutional for juveniles who commit crimes that are not murders to be sentenced to life without parole. The U.S. court said such youths must be given a realistic opportunity to seek parole.
The California court unanimously ordered a resentencing in Los Angeles County Superior Court for Rodrigo Caballero, who was given the term of 110 years to life for attempting to murder three rival gang members in Palmdale in 2007, when he was 16. Caballero, a member of the Lancas gang, shot at three members of the Val Verde Park gang. He wounded one victim and missed the other two. The California court did not say what sentence Caballero should receive, but it ordered that he must be given “a meaningful opportunity to seek release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” The panel also said that other California youths sentenced to the equivalent of life terms for non-homicide crimes could file habeas corpus petitions in trial courts to seek modification of their sentences.
David Durchfort, a lawyer for Caballero on appeal, estimated that the decision could affect between 700 and 800 California inmates who received such sentences for crimes committed as juveniles. “It gives kids convicted of serious offenses who received long terms a chance to demonstrate they deserve a second chance,” Durchfort said. “It gives them hope and gives them something to work for,” he said. Durchfort said the California court is the first state supreme court in the nation to rule that the U.S. Supreme Court decision banning life without parole in juvenile non-homicide cases applies to sentences that are the equivalent of life terms.