OROVILLE — Although the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles today, it won”t not have much affect in Butte County, according to officials.
The high court ruled 5-4 that children cannot be automatically punished the same way as criminal adults are, without considering their age and other factors, the Associated Press reported.
The decision left the door open to allow individual judges to sentence juveniles to life without parole in individual cases of murder.
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said the ruling won”t affect the county or state much, and won”t affect the life without parole sentence imposed on a 17-year-old Chico boy in 2007.
“The decision only prevents automatic imposition of life without parole,” said Ramsey via telephone. “A judge making an individual decision can make that (choice).”
“There are 17-year-olds who are immature, and others who are calculating and dangerous. It”s an individual situation we would be making decisions on.”
To Juvenile Court public defender Ron Reed, the Supreme Court”s decision is “wonderful.”
“Kids in their teens make stupid — even horrible — mistakes, but they can be entirely different people when they get older,” said Reed in a phone interview. “Giving them a chance to have some shot at life is a humane thing.”
Juvenile involvement in homicides is rare in Butte County, but it has happened in recent years.
Freddy Siordia was 17 when he was sentenced to life without parole in early 2007. He was convicted of the stabbing death of Bryan Semore, 18, of Oroville, in 2005 at a Chico gas station.
Siordia, a known member of a gang, was also sentenced to an additional 15-years-to-life for the attempted murder of Semore”s companion.
More recently, six teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16 were involved in a home-invasion robbery in Oroville where the homeowner, Frank Battaglia, was beaten with a baseball bat and died six days later.
Four of those defendants were prosecuted in juvenile court on admissions of murder and given life sentences in state juvenile facilities. They may be released when they turn 25 unless the state Department of Juvenile justice believes they”re too dangerous to be released, Ramsey said.
Two others in the Battaglia killing, Jesaden Lor and Toua Delynn Thao, were tried as adults. Under plea agreements, they were sentenced last fall to 25 years to life in state prison.
Ramsey affirmed Lor and Thao”s maturity was considered in offering the plea bargains, and in their sentences.
He said the Supreme Court decision would not apply in Siordia”s case.
Ramsey pointed out Siordia was sentenced to life without parole on a special circumstance that it was a gang-related homicide, along with an additional sentence for gang-related attempted homicide. Siordia also had previous gang-related violations.
“He was a very bad young man,” Ramsey said.
Although it wasn”t certain whether the Supreme Court decision would be retroactive, Reed was of the opinion it should be, and would apply to Siordia.
“The court found such a sentence cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth Amendment,” he said. “If it”s a violation … the sentence would have to be changed.”
Reed conceded that an individual”s past and psychiatric profile should be considered in sentences, and that under some circumstances juvenile offenders shouldn”t get out of prison.
Reed concluded the Supreme Court decision is a good ruling, “and shows the Constitution realizes there are certain limits to what we can do as human beings.”
“There won”t be thousands affected, but there will be hundreds,” Reed said. “It will make a difference for them.”
Ramsey didn”t agree Siordia”s sentence would be reconsidered.
“He was tried as an adult, and that would also make a difference,” Ramsey said. “California allows a judge to make the call, whether life without parole or 25 to life … the decision doesn”t affect Siordia.”