Former House Speaker Gingrich Calls for Signature of SB 9

September 21, 2012

Former Republican Speaker of the House urges Governor to Sign Yee’s Bill to Give Youth Offenders a Second Chance

SACRAMENTO – Former Republican Speaker of the House and former conservative presidential candidate Newt Gingrich today called on Governor Jerry Brown to sign legislation that would give youth serving life without parole an opportunity to earn a second chance.

The governor has nine days to act on Senate Bill 9 – The Fair Sentencing for Youth Act – authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo).

In an op-ed in the U-T San Diego, Gingrich and former Assembly Republican leader Pat Nolan wrote:

“Our laws often ignore the difference between adults and teens, and some youngsters are sentenced to life in prison without parole (LWOP). Despite urban legends to the contrary, this law has no exceptions: A teen sentenced to LWOP will die in prison as an old man or woman. No exceptions for good behavior, no exceptions period. No hope.

We are conservative Republicans, and we believe that some people are so dangerous that we must separate them from our communities. That is what prisons are for. But sometimes we overuse our institutions. California’s teen LWOP is an overuse of incarceration. It denies the reality that young people often change for the better. And it denies hope to those sentenced under it.

We urge Gov. Brown to sign SB 9, and thereby restore the chance for these inmates to transform their lives and become good citizens.”

“While we do not often agree, I must commend Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan for having the courage and understanding to support SB 9,” said Yee. “They have put redemption before fear, and rehabilitation before retribution. I look forward to the Governor’s signature so that we can finally give our youth an opportunity to earn a second chance.”

Under Senate Bill 9, courts could review cases of juveniles sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) after 15 years, potentially allowing some individuals to receive a new minimum sentence of 25 years to life. The bill would require the offender to show remorse and be working towards rehabilitation in order to submit a petition for consideration of the new sentence. 

Currently, prosecutors and judges have discretion on whether to pursue LWOP for juveniles. However, several cases call such discretion into question.

One such case involves Christian Bracamontes, who was 16 and had never before been in trouble with the law. One day when Christian's friend said, “Hey do you want to rob this guy?” Christian replied in what can only be described as a quintessential adolescent response, “I don't care.” When the victim refused to comply with his friend's demand, Christian said he thought the bluff was called, and he remembered turning away and bending down to pick up his bike and leave, when he heard a gunshot.

The prosecutor offered a lower sentence, but in Christian's teenaged mind he could not see how he would be responsible for the other person's actions and he turned down that deal. The DA was quoted in the newspaper as saying, “It's hard for teenagers to understand concepts like aiding and abetting.” Christian was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

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Contact: Adam J. Keigwin,
(916) 651-4008