Friday, July 18, 2014
C.A. Upholds Life Sentence for 14-Year-Old Killer
By a MetNews Staff Writer
In a ruling yesterday, the Third District Court of Appeal held that a life sentence imposed upon a minor did allow for a possibility of a parole, and thus was constitutional.
Xeng Saetern, found guilty of first degree murder, was 14 years old at the time of the crime. Xeng was sentenced to two terms of life for each of the two murder convictions and consecutive life terms of 25 years to life for each of the firearm enhancements, totaling 100 years to life in state prison.
The court said the sentence does not violate the Eighth Amendment because Xeng will be entitled to a parole hearing within 25 years, under recent legislation. Other courts have held that the new legislation is not an adequate substitute for consideration of a lesser sentence by the trial judge, and Presiding Justice Vance Raye acknowledged that his court’s role is “ephemeral” because the conflict is going to be resolved by the state Supreme Court.
Evidence showed that Xeng and two other individuals had driven to the victim’s place of work, and waited until she exited. Xeng then walked to her car, and shot her once in the head and once in the abdomen, killing the victim and her four-month-old fetus.
It was undisputed that one of the individuals with Xeng was the cousin of the victim’s husband and had been hired by the husband to commit the murder. Xeng said he did not know why anyone wanted the victim dead.
Raye noted that the state and federal high courts have grappled in recent years with the constitutional limits of government’s power to punish minors tried as adults. He cited Graham v. Florida (2010), Miller v. Alabama (2012), and People v. Caballero (2012) 55 Cal.4th 262.
Following those rulings, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill No. 260, adding §3051 to the Penal Code, which provides minors sentenced to a determinate term of years or a life term an opportunity to prove their rehabilitation and secure release on parole after serving a prescribed term of confinement.
In Miller, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated life without possibility of parole sentences, where such a penalty was mandatory and imposed without respect to consideration of the background or age of the offender.
Conversely, Raye said, a sentence of life without possibility of parole resulting from “individualized sentencing” is permissible.
Raye concluded that “§3051 has the effect of rendering Xeng’s sentence as one that includes the right to parole consideration after 25 years.” That renders any Miller violation harmless, he said, because §3051 “affords Xeng more favorable relief than any that could be provided by this court.”
The case is People v. Saetern; 14 S.O.S. 3651.
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