First LWOP Youth Resentenced Under Yee’s SB 9

December 18, 2013

Yee bill gave children sentenced to life without parole a chance at release

SACRAMENTO – In 2011, Senator Leland Yee’s (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) SB 9 was signed into law, allowing those sentenced to life without parole as children to apply for a resentencing hearing. Edel Gonzalez, is the first to have one of these hearings and to be resentenced to 25 to life under SB 9. He now has the opportunity to apply for parole in less than three years.

“Young people have an incredible capacity for rehabilitation,” said Yee, a child psychologist by training. “Sentencing them to life without parole is tantamount to simply throwing them away, without acknowledging their ability to grow, change, and become productive members of society.”

Gonzalez, exposed to gang life at an early age, participated in a carjacking in 1993 that resulted in the murder of the driver. Despite not pulling the trigger himself and being only 16 at the time, Gonzalez was given a life sentence without parole. Since then, he has kept a clean institutional record, has taken advantage of educational programs within prison, and has been considered at low risk for recidivism.

"There is a growing recognition that young people are different from adults," said Elizabeth Calvin of Human Rights Watch. "There is no question that they understand right from wrong. The question is, are they as culpable in all ways as someone who is an adult? What science is finding is no. The brain development that is happening in early adulthood is relevant to how teenagers behave. Our laws should reflect that."

The origins of SB 9 came from the case of Sara Kruzan who, after three years of rape and sexual exploitation by her trafficker, shot and killed him. Despite the circumstances of the case, and the fact she was only 16, she was given a sentence of life without parole. Kruzan’s sentence was commuted by Governor Schwarzenegger and was finally released this October after 19 years in captivity.

Each child offender that was given this sentence would cost the state upwards of $2.5 million over the course of their sentence. To continue incarcerating the current population of youth offenders already sentenced to life without parole until their deaths in prison will cost the state close to $700 million. The United States is the only remaining country that continues to sentence children to life without parole.

“Young people often make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes have terrible consequences,” said Yee. “But we cannot write any child off for the rest of their lives. We must at least give them the chance to atone and seek forgiveness for what they’ve done.”

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Contact: Dan Lieberman,

(916) 651-4008