Post-Conviction Justice Project students Mark Fahey and Celina Kirchner took time away from their cases this week to visit Sacramento, where they lobbied legislators in support of juvenile justice bill SB-9.
Fahey and Kirchner went from office to office at the state capitol, speaking directly with legislative assistants and aides about the importance of passing SB-9 and ensuring fair sentencing for California’s youth.
The bill, which still awaits a vote in the California Assembly, would end the practice of sentencing juveniles to life without the possibility of parole, a practice currently authorized under California Penal Code §190.5. The United States is the only country in the world that imposes this sentence on juveniles.
Juveniles sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (known as “LWOPers”) are generally entitled to fewer rehabilitative programs than most inmates.
The students’ visit to the state capitol also sought to draw attention to worrying statistics regarding juvenile LWOPers. The Human Rights Watch estimates that almost half of all juvenile offenders serving life sentences without parole in California did not actually commit murder themselves — instead, many provided support to murderers or helped them during the commission of their crime.
The felony murder rule, which holds criminals responsible for deaths that occur during the commission of a felony, allows for these convictions even in the case of juveniles.
Human Rights Watch also estimates that, in the overwhelming majority of juvenile LWOP cases, the juvenile was acting with an adult during the commission of the crime.
Fahey and Kirchner both joined the Post-Conviction Justice Project in the summer of 2011, and each currently represents several clients serving life sentences at the California Institution for Women.