Erik’s Law would limit the number of times a person sentenced as a juvenile to life imprisonment without parole can make a bid to have the sentence changed. It seems like a logical fix to California law.
Senate Bill 394, signed into law in 2017 as part of a criminal justice reform package, allows those sentenced, as juveniles, to life without parole to actually be eligible for parole by the 25th year of incarceration.
Instead of the four opportunities for re-sentencing that current law allows, Erik’s Law proposes that one hearing is sufficient to determine if a life without parole offender deserves to be considered a changed person from when the crime was committed.
It’s nicknamed after Colusa teenager Erik Ingebretsen, who was cold-heartedly lured to a remote location and then murdered by a couple boys he thought were his friends back in 1997. He was beaten and stabbed by Nathan Ramazzini, then 16, and Leopoldo J. Contreras Jr., then 18.
Ramazzini was charged and convicted with first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Contreras pleaded guilt and was sentenced to 25 years to life, but was released on parole in late 2018.
Current law entitled Ramazzini to a re-sentencing hearing in late 2018 because he had served 15 years of his life sentence. But Colusa County Judge Jeffrey Thompson upheld his original life sentence.
Still, under current law, Ramazzini will be eligible for multiple appearances before a parole board, starting in 2021 – because he was a juvenile at the time of the murder.
Under local Assemblyman James Gallagher’s proposal, if a judge once rules that the offender is permanently incorrigible and irreparably corrupt, they would not receive further opportunities for re-sentencing or juvenile parole board hearings.
We understand that people can change on a large scale. Someone, theoretically, could be young and
so immature to have not acquired or fully developed senses of sympathy, empathy, remorse, morality... and someone sent as a teenager to prison for life could develop those traits and become sincerely remorseful.
But we don’t agree that a convict should be afforded bids over and over again to have a sentence reduced by convincing a court that he/she has, since the time of a heinous crime, developed a soul.
After a suitable term and after they’ve had time to change, give them a chance. And trust the judges we elect and keep in office – they should be able to weigh the evidence and decide whether a convict is a different person after years of residency in prison, or not.
It’s hard. Keeping someone in prison for life, from a young age, seems very hard. But it was terrible crimes that put them in that position. And to the families of victims, it’s a never-ending torture.
A petition in support of the Erik’s Law can be viewed at www.ipetitions.com/petition/support-for-assembly-bill-665-eriks-law. The proposal will be heard Tuesday, Jan. 14, in the Public Safety Committee at the State Capitol, room 126 at 9 a.m.