Legislators behaving badly

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Ma: Lock em up forever

There's only one country in the world that allows children to be sentenced to life without parole. Only one place on Earth where a 16-year-old can be sent to prison for life, without any chance at redemption. Only one place that doesn't recognize that brain development, including judgment, isn't complete until a person reaches his or her 20s.

And that's the United States.

State Sen. Leland Yee, a child psychologist, had a very moderate bill in the Legislature this year that would have given juveniles sentenced to LWOP a chance after 15 years to be reconsidered for parole. That would put California somewhere close to the rest of the civilized world.

"SB 399 is not a get-out-of-jail-free card; it is an incredibly modest proposal that respects victims, international law, and the fact that children have a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults," Yee noted.

It cleared the state Senate, and should have cleared the Assembly Aug 24. But even with the Democrats firmly in control of that body, Yee failed to get enough votes for SB 399. And one of the people who refused to vote for it was San Francisco Assembly member Fiona Ma.

You expect this sort of shit from Republicans and from some conservative law-ond-order Democrats. But it's inconceivable that a San Francisco Democrat would be against a bill like this. 

What on Earth was Ma thinking? I couldn't get her on the phone, but her communications aide, Cataline Hayes-Bautista, sent the following Ma statement:

 “I did not come to my decision on SB 399 easily – it’s legislation that I have carefully reviewed and considered for months. While I acknowledge that some juveniles in the correctional system may have the capacity to be rehabilitated after decades of being incarcerated, I feel that we cannot reset a defendant’s clock 25 years later expecting a victim’s family will reset their hearts.

I know our District Attorneys do not take life sentences lightly. These crimes are limited to first and second degree murder offenses with a special circumstance which include the most troublesome crimes: murdering a peace officer, murdering to achieve a hate crime, committing a murder that’s especially heinous, murdering for financial gain, and murdering while escaping lawful custody.

All of these sentences were handed down after murder victims' families had the chance to speak out and address the court on the impact of these murders. To re-open these closed cases to new sentencing hearings would re-open the wounds already suffered by murder victims' families, forcing these victims to re-visit and re-live cases they were told had been closed forever. I think it would be unfair to these victims' families to have to re-live these horrific crimes and for that reason I felt compelled to oppose this legislation.

There are already deliberative checks in place throughout the system where prosecutors, defense attorneys, jurors, and particularly our judges, have the ultimate discretion to choose a lesser juvenile sentence when sentencing a juvenile murderer. In addition, the Governor has the power to grant pardons and commute sentences. This already provides an avenue for juveniles to seek extraordinary relief if justice calls for it.

 While I appreciate Senator Yee's intent to create opportunities to rehabilitate juvenile criminals, these particular crimes rise to a standard in which we need to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.”

Sorry, but that's just terrible. To say that the victims' families are better off if juveniles -- people who were too young to be fully responsible for what they did, and who in some cases didn't even kill anyone (just being present when someone kills someone can be a life sentence) are locked up until they die is just kind of sick. I don't know what else to say. Except to give an example of who is serving life without parole (from Yee's press release):

One such case involves Anthony C., who was 16 and had never before been in trouble with the law. Anthony belonged to a “tagging crew” that paints graffiti.  One day Anthony and his friend James went down to a wash (a cement-sided stream bed) to graffiti.  James revealed to Anthony that he had a gun in his backpack and when another group of kids came down to the wash, James decided to rob them. James pulled out the gun, and the victim told him, “If you don’t kill me, I’ll kill you.” At that point, Anthony thought the bluff had been called, and turned to pick up his bike. James shot the other kid.

 The police told Anthony’s parents that he did not need a lawyer. He was interviewed by the police and released, but later re-arrested on robbery and murder charges. Anthony was offered a 16-to-life sentence before trial if he pled, but he refused, believing he was innocent. Anthony was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Charged with aiding and abetting, he was held responsible for the actions of James.

 Okay, this kid doesn't belong in prison for life, without any chance of parole. Thanks, Fiona.

Meanwhile, without the support of Yee, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano's bill that would allow a traffic camera at Market and Octavis narrowly squeaked by the state Senate Aug. 24 and will now head for the governor's desk. The bill has generated a lot of commentary on this blog; bicyclists and pedestrians think it will save lives in a crazy intersection, and privacy types worry about the creeping police state.

Adam Keigwin, Yee's chief of staff, insists that Yee didn't do anything to block the bill:

FYI: Senator Yee did not block the bill.  In fact, he told his colleagues who were looking for his input on a San Francisco specific bill that it was ok for them to vote for it, even though he voted no.  The bill passed today.  Again, the Senator has opposed all camera enforcement bills for several reasons: such cameras create a police state; law enforcement could use the film to enforce other laws; we should use actual officers, have better traffic improvements – like we have done on 19th avenue where we have gone from several deaths a year to zero; open government problem – film (government document) is allowed to be destroyed without the public ever gaining access to it; and finally other privacy concerns.

Still, he didn't vote for it, forcing Ammiano and Sen. Mark Leno to scramble around trying to find another vote to put it over the top.

Comments

You're funny Tim. I don't think you even know what you're talking about. Do yourself a favor and stop posting this crap! Or maybe you should, because it makes me laugh!!!

Posted by Guest on Aug. 26, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

Leland is worried that they could ticket drivers making this turn or "use the film to enforce other laws" ... So, what he's saying is:

"Privacy for *criminals* is more important to Senator Yee than the safety of people trying to get to work by bike."

That's lovely, really.

Posted by turtles on Aug. 26, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

What's funny about sending 16 year olds to prison for life? Are you saying that's a good idea?

Posted by tim on Aug. 26, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

My wife was murdered October 15, 2005. Her killer studied to be a serial killer. He carved a symbol into her back and cut her open to try take out her internal organs while she was alive. He will kill again if he is released at age 30, 40 or whatever. I explained to Yee how he could write a bill to address those truly deserving of a 2nd chance but leaving in those who would kill, rape, torture if released. He wouldn't listen. The bill plays on our sympathies but Yee has his own agenda. As written, the bill alters the standards for sentencing and for parole hearings. As written, Adolf Hitler would qualify if he was under 18 at the time of his crimes.
Daniel Horowitz

Posted by DanielHorowitz on Aug. 27, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

My wife was murdered October 15, 2005. Her killer studied to be a serial killer. He carved a symbol into her back and cut her open to try take out her internal organs while she was alive. He will kill again if he is released at age 30, 40 or whatever. I explained to Yee how he could write a bill to address those truly deserving of a 2nd chance but leaving in those who would kill, rape, torture if released. He wouldn't listen. The bill plays on our sympathies but Yee has his own agenda. As written, the bill alters the standards for sentencing and for parole hearings. As written, Adolf Hitler would qualify if he was under 18 at the time of his crimes.
Daniel Horowitz

Posted by DanielHorowitz on Aug. 27, 2010 @ 6:33 pm

"law enforcement could use the film to enforce other laws." Why is enforcing the law a bad thing? Is this 'other laws' a reference to his TWO prostitution busts in 1999?

Look it up yourself. There is an article in sfgate about it in 1999.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 26, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

Which is too bad. Fiona is known for being terrible on crime and justice issues, but the time to generate outrage would have been before the vote, not after.

Instead of whipping up outrage over a traffic camera, the Guardian should have focused on this. I don't know if a flood of calls would have made her change her mind, but it was worth a try. Instead, you guys were too focused on being outraged that some drivers are making right turns.

Yeah, Fiona is an embarrassment to this city, but you guys sure showed some misplaced journalistic priorities.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 26, 2010 @ 4:23 pm

No way to look into the factualness of the anecdote.

Posted by matlock on Aug. 26, 2010 @ 6:09 pm

Yee's bill needed a lot more than Ma's vote. It went down by, I think, six votes. The other one was a cliffhanger that hinged on one vote.

Posted by tim on Aug. 26, 2010 @ 7:40 pm

You're all seriously comparing a life sentance in jail with a traffic camera?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 27, 2010 @ 10:47 am

My wife was murdered October 15, 2005. Her killer studied to be a serial killer. He carved a symbol into her back and cut her open to try take out her internal organs while she was alive. He will kill again if he is released at age 30, 40 or whatever. I explained to Yee how he could write a bill to address those truly deserving of a 2nd chance but leaving in those who would kill, rape, torture if released. He wouldn't listen. The bill plays on our sympathies but Yee has his own agenda. As written, the bill alters the standards for sentencing and for parole hearings. As written, Adolf Hitler would qualify if he was under 18 at the time of his crimes.
Daniel Horowitz

Posted by DanielHorowitz on Aug. 27, 2010 @ 6:34 pm

All of the stories that the Human Rights Watch publishes are based on what the convicted people told them. When you go to the people involved in the cases you learn the real story. I can't say that NONE of them are true but NONE of the ones I have been able to check have been even close to true.

Daniel Horowitz

Posted by DanielHorowitz on Aug. 27, 2010 @ 8:15 pm

The story of the convicted individual Anthony C., does seem sad, but it doesn't truly support the argument of the article that juveniles should not be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole because their brains are "not fully developed."

The facts of Anthony's case as presented by the SFBG would tend to support an argument for revising the state's felony murder laws (i.e. where an individual is held responsible for a murder which occurs during the commission of a felony in which they participate, even if they did not actually commit the killing), but it doesn't speak to the issue of whether or not juveniles should be held less culpable of murder, and therefore should not be subject to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Why would Anthony's story seem any more or less just if he were not a juvenile? What in his case has anything to do with his age being a factor as to why he should or should not be held less culpable for the crime of which he was convicted? In other words, Anthony C's story demonstrates a case of an individual who was convicted of murder under a legal theory which might seem unfair given the facts of the case, but it would seem unfair regardless of Anthony's age.

Mr. Redmond may have a legitimate argument to make that juveniles who commit murder, even murders involving horrific circumstances, should be given the opportunity to have a parole review. However, it would seem he was so single-minded in "cherry-picking" the most sympathetic case to support his argument that he missed noticing that his chosen example doesn't really fit the argument.

Posted by Chris on Aug. 28, 2010 @ 12:11 am

The sad part of this advocacy piece is that not once does it mention what actually has to have occurred for any juvenile to get LWOP. The only way for any juvenile to get LWOP is to have been convicted of a murder that would be death eligible for an adult. That's right, first degree murder with special circumstances. Also, in each and every one of those cases the juvenile was eligible to have their LWOP reduced to 25 to life by the judge that sentenced them (Cal. Penal Code section 190.5(b)), but it was declined.

Sen. Yee's example is false and misleading. His fact pattern omits critical facts because it does not actually describe sufficient facts that would allow a conviction of anything much less first degree murder with special circumstances. Additionally, if that is all that happened, what judge would give Anthony C. LWOP on those facts? I guarantee you that if that is all that happened, that judge would have lost their retention election. Who is Anthony C. anyway? In California, juveniles prosecuted as adults are not captioned that way, their full name is used and those proceedings are open to the public. Mr. Yee, tell us.

Let's have a real debate about juvenile LWOP, but let's not lie to the public about Anthony C. or the fact that each and every one of these defendants participated, yes participated, in an otherwise death penalty eligible murder. Oh, and by the way, you cannot be convicted of murder for just being present during a killing. Please, stop lying to your readers. For the people who did not actually deliver the fatal blows, they have to have intented to kill and helped in the killing or intended to participate and did participate in things like robbery, rape, etc. that resulted in death. For those who want to be informed, do not listen to Mr. Redmond, read California Penal Code section 190.2 for yourself. If you are really interested in the truth and getting to the bottom of what PC 190.2 means in plain language, read the jury instructions for murder and special circumstances in CALCRIM, it is in the 500 series instructions.

Posted by David on Aug. 28, 2010 @ 8:20 am

Truly disappointed in fiona ma;a woman that says"lock them up forever" of children, she must not really be a woman, or she is meg whitman! Try to get a surprise visit to juvie, it is mans inhumanity to children! They incarcerate an 8 yr old and give him nothing to do in his cell, erxcept being harrassed by the inept staff. Give the child perncil & paper anything to help him understand why he's in this situation. The cops frame many of these kids, so they have records before they are 18, giving them less chance in an already bad job market. Absolutely no structure, no chance for a youngster to rehabilitate; and the cruel guards are even more obstacle. No good examples from the authorities over them and they may be these children's only frame of reference, authorities should set good example and guide these children. Our leaders r not the example they should look to-all the corruption & crooks, so the crappy example of our lawmakers trickle down to the kids. Banksters insurance gangsters a supreme court that is less than supreme-collusion - how can we continue to incarcerate our kids????!!!

Posted by vitriolic on Aug. 28, 2010 @ 5:29 pm