California has long had one of the strictest policies against juvenile crime in the country, but this has begun to change. As recently as 2010, more than 200 of the state’s youth were locked up, serving life prison terms with no possibility of parole, for crimes that they had committed before they were 18 years old. In contrast, the rest of the world—not the U.S., the world—had only seven people who were under 18 serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Gang Violence Influences Laws
When looking at recent social history, it is hardly surprising that this would be the case. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the rate of gang-related criminal activity reached new highs in California, a type of crime specifically perpetrated by and targeting young people. In an effort to curb this dramatic and devastating gang violence, the state passed an anti-crime measure in 1990 that made life sentences without the possibility of parole the norm for any murder charge. This law was in effect until 2012, when it was changed to allow youth offenders who had served at least 15 years of their sentence to be eligible for a parole hearing. It was not until just last year, three years after the monumental bill was passed, that the first youth serving a life sentence was released from prison.
No Adverse Effect
The possibility of a lessened sentence has not negatively affected crime rates among juvenile offenders. In fact, juvenile arrests for violent crimes nationwide decreased 10 percent between 2008 and 2009, and fell to a historic low level in 2009, a decrease of nearly 50 percent since 1980. The most common crime for which juveniles are arrested is arson, with 44 percent of all incidents of arson involving the arrest of a juvenile offender. The second most common type of offense involving the arrest of a juvenile in 2009 was burglary.
If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime as a juvenile, it is imperative to seek legal counsel immediately. Do not go through it alone. Contact an experienced San Jose criminal defense attorney today.