An appellate panel ruled that an Orange County Superior Court judge violated the constitutional rights of a defendant convicted of multiple sex crimes as a 14-year-old when he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison, according to court records obtained today.
The defendant -- known in court records as J.I.A. -- was convicted of two counts each of sodomy by force, kidnapping to commit robbery, dissuading a witness by force and second-degree robbery, along with kidnapping to commit a sexual offense, forcible oral copulation and attempted second-degree robbery.
He committed the crimes against three 12-year-old boys and a 13-year-old boy when he was 14, but was sentenced when he was 18 years old. Orange County Superior Court Judge James Stotler sentenced him to 50 years to life plus two consecutive life terms, making him eligible for parole when he is about 70 years old.
In June 2011, a three-justice panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that the defendant should be given a sentence that would make him first eligible for parole when he is about 56 years old so he would have a reasonable chance of getting out of prison before he dies.
The state Supreme Court last October vacated the ruling and sent the case back to the Santa Ana appellate court panel for reconsideration in light of a similar case from 2012 involving the sentencing of a juvenile.
The appellate justices came to the same conclusion in the ruling handed down Wednesday, taking into account J.I.A.'s abusive childhood.
The boy's ``mother neglected him, and his father and stepfather, who both had substance abuse problems, were physically and emotionally abusive,'' the justices noted in the ruling.
``When he was 5 or 6 years old, he was visiting family in Mexico when a family friend took J.I.A. into the woods and forced J.I.A.'' to perform oral sex on him, according to the ruling.
The boy first had sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 13, and when he was 14, he had sex with a 30-year-old woman, according to the ruling, which says he began drinking when he was 9 and smoking marijuana at 13.
When the defendant was 8 years old, an IQ test indicated he was in the mentally retarded range, according to the justices.
They ruled the boy's sentence violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Juveniles do not have to be guaranteed a chance to get out of prison in their lifetime, but they at least must be given a chance to earn release, the justices ruled.
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK OF THE COMMENTS
Do you agree with the appeals court?
- City News Service