SAN FRANCISCO -- The state Supreme Court has agreed to review a 16-year-old's 110-year prison sentence for three attempted murders and decide whether juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicide are constitutionally entitled to a realistic chance at parole.
The court voted unanimously Wednesday to take up an appeal by a gang member convicted of shooting at three members of rival gangs, and wounding one, in Palmdale (Los Angeles County) in June 2007.
The teenager, Rodrigo Caballero, testified that he had been trying to kill them. He was tried as an adult, and his sentence would not make him eligible for parole until he was 122 years old, his lawyer said.
The state's high court will review only Caballero's prison term. The issue is whether it violates standards that the U.S. Supreme Court set last year when it overturned a 16-year-old's sentence of life without parole in Florida for an armed burglary and a probation violation.
The high court said a minor's no-parole sentence for any crime except murder or manslaughter violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment by denying the youth a chance to show rehabilitation.
Caballero's lawyer argued that the same reasoning should apply to a sentence so long that it guarantees the minor will never be released. The Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles disagreed in January, saying the Supreme Court barred only sentences that explicitly deny all possibility of parole.
Otherwise, a youth who shot multiple victims "could not receive a term commensurate with his or her guilt if all the victims had the good fortune to survive," the appeals court said in a 3-0 ruling.
Caballero's lawyer, David Durchfort, said Thursday that the Supreme Court's rationale in barring no-parole sentences - that juveniles are less mature, less responsible and less culpable than adults - should also apply to sentences that give a youth no realistic chance for parole.
After serving some time in prison, perhaps 12 or 15 years in Caballero's case, "these kids should be allowed to show their worth and (have) an opportunity to re-enter society," Durchfort said.
The case is People vs. Caballero, S190467.
E-mail Bob Egelko at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page C - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle