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Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Observations about the latest SCOTUS rulings:

In one case, the court found LWOPP sentences for juvenile violative of 8th Amendment (cruel & unusual punishment) except for murder. In another case, the court upheld a federal law authorizing extended civil commitments of sex offenders based on threats of future danger to children based on proof of propensities to commit sex crimes.

For those interested in the soap opera of shifting alliances on the court, the usual suspects dissented in both case: Scalia and Thomas. In one case, Roberts joined the majority holding but not its rationale. In the other, Alito did the same. Kennedy wrote the majority (5-4) opinion in one, Bryer the other (7-2).

In the debate of left vs. right, so-called “libertarians” immediately decried both rulings. One interfered with states eliminating vicious teenagers. The other upheld a civil law based on a premise that was not literally found in the Constitution. Conservatives will rage about reference in the court’s opinion to international standards of morality in sentencing.

The left is likely to approve the juvenile decision but might be (at least should be) troubled that the court was not troubled by a law that permits lengthy involuntary incarceration based on unreliable medical predictions of future dangerousness.

As Solicitor Gen, court nominee Kagan had argued support for the federal law, thus making new enemies, or at least reinforcing the enmity of her opposition.

In practice, neither case has much impact in California. The vast majority of our vicious juveniles with LWOPP sentences are there for murders. Only a few crimes (eg. kidnap for ransom) authorize that sentence and resentencing to life with possibility of parole or a sentence of years will pose no great barrier to a virtual life sentence. Adding up of consecutive sentences including the many enhancements provided by the criminal statutes can result in sentences like: 184 years, of which the criminal must serve 85%.

California has a law analagous to the federal civil commitment to extend incarceration of sexual offenders. Our sexually violent predator (SVP) law is being applied every day in our courts.

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