SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The American Civil Liberties Union is urging the Supreme Court of California to allow hearings for teens who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The ACLU of Northern California submitted a habeas corpus petition in San Francisco on Monday on behalf of Leif Taylor, who was convicted at the age of 16 of killing a man in Long Beach during a bicycle theft in 1993.

The ACLU said that Taylor, now 39, was sentenced to life in prison without parole under laws enacted in the 1990s.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “children are constitutionally different from adults for the purposes of sentencing.”

A 2013 California state law promises some juvenile offenders a chance to be resentenced to 25 years to life if they can show remorse and prove rehabilitation, according to the UCLA.

In 2014, the California Supreme Court announced that for the previous 20 years, lower courts had misconstrued state law in favor of life without the possibility of parole sentences – as opposed to 25 years to life – for minors convicted of murder with a special circumstance.

The petition to the court maintains that the prisoners were sentenced under the “improper interpretation” of the California Penal Code.

The ACLU is now seeking a resentencing hearing for Taylor.

Taylor is one of about 255 people who may be entitled to resentencing, according to the ACLU.

“This harsh and unconstitutional sentencing scheme was essentially throwing children away forever,” said Michael Risher, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU. “Now that the Supreme Court has ruled it was unlawful, these people deserve a fair opportunity to show that they should be resentenced.”

Taylor is currently confined in Centinela State Prison and hopes to be resentenced to 25 years to life, with the possibility of parole. In his petition, Taylor also asks the judge to provide instruction on how others can seek resentencing.

According to Human Rights Watch, international law prohibits the use of life without parole for those under 18 years old and states that the U.S. is in violation of those laws.

The California Supreme Court decision on May 5, 2014 requires courts to take into consideration the distinct attributes of youth when sentencing.

In 2014, Human Rights Watch estimated that nationally there were over 2,500 people serving life without parole for crimes they committed while juveniles.

California,  according to Human Rights Watch, has the highest number of people serving life without parole sentences for crimes committed as children and the racial disparities are significant.

Latino youth are serving the sentence at a rate five times higher than white youth, while African Americans are serving the sentence at a rate of 18 times higher than that of whites, according to Human Rights Watch.


By Hannah Albarazi – Follow her on Twitter

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