Lies Told About SB 9

During the 2011 Campaign for SB 9, advocates for California Teen Killers sentenced to natural life for the murders for which they were convicted, lies were told by advocates for SB 9. Some of them can be found discussed more fully at our Myths and Facts tab above.

Extensive analysis elsewhere on this website demonstrates how SB 9 unconstitutionally, retroactively would have undone life sentences of convicted murderers, in denial of Due Process, victims rights, public safety, and certainly of fiscal responsibility.

In testimony in August 2011 before the California legislature, Senator Yee and other advocates for his unconstitutional retroactive bill to undo these life sentences, repeated lies, half truths, misinterpretations, sanitized versions of the murder cases, and manufactured statistics.

  • Some stated repeatedly before legislators and the media that the USA is the only nation in the world that sentences teen killers to life. Not true.
  • They repeated false claims about what neurological data on frontal lobe development in the adolescent brain means in terms of criminal culpability.
  • They completely lied about the pricetag for taxpayers associated with SB 9. Over and over they said this bill would be a remedy to the cost crisis and crowding issues of the California prison system. Not true
  • One advocates for SB 9 even told a victim group, a POMC chapter leader in California, that the bill only applied to “accomplices” and did not apply to the actual killers. ALL NOT TRUE.

And we cannot state strongly enough our disapproval about their willingness to just manufacture statistics that are intended to imply that the sentencing of murderers in California is based on race. It is not. Their argument implies that somehow law enforcement and prosecutors have any choice about the race of the offenders they arrest who kill people! Absurd.

We call these LIES, not something more diplomatic like “misrepresentations” or “exaggerations”, because of the intentionality of their propaganda campaign. Sometimes the truth would come out – one man testifying for their bill admitted other nations have the life sentence for teen killers. But for the most part, over and over, despite our asking them to stop, despite our pointing out the truth, they continued to LIE about the facts to try to sell this bad bill.

These few misbehaving advocates for SB 9 tried to hard-sell it. They get funding to do so. We think that should stop too.

Many of these lies are available to view for yourself on the CalChannel which has archived tapes of testimony for SB 9 organized by the dates of the hearings and debates.

There were some “misrepresentations as well. Advocates for SB 9 repeatedly testified that other states have already “abolished JLWOP” as they were proposing that California should in SB 9, specifically Texas and Colorado. Not EXACTLY true:

  • Colorado did pass legislation changing juvenile murder sentencing from natural life in certain crimes to a very stiff sentence that is parole eligible. But there are three important and significant aspects of the Colorado legislation.
  • Colorado’s bill was NOT retroactive. This is ALL important. The retroactivity is what was so impossibly problematic with SB 9.
  • All Colorado juvenile killers under this sentence would still serve 40 years before they would be eligible for parole (California’s was much earlier, and they changed those numbers around alot as well in their marketing).
  • After 40 years they would only have parole options every 5 years, but they would already be in their late 50’s before their first shot at release.

Texas’ situation was not at all comparable. They never went through a process anywhere similar to SB 9 and here is why:

  • Texas led the nations in the use of the death penalty, including for juvenile killers. Texas for many years executed juvenile murderers, including the most recent one Napoleon Beasley. They were one of 9 states that did so.
  • In 2005 the United States Supreme Court ruled that no one under the age of 18 could receive the death penalty for any crime.
  • Texas also did not have, until that same time period, any LWOP or natural life sentences for ANY killer of any age.
  • Pressure from reformers of Texas’ high rate of executions were calling for natural life or LWOP sentences to be added for murderers of any age. It was at that same time that the juvenile death penalty was struck down nationally.
  • Texas had to do some quick shuffling around with other juvenile killers on death row. They adopted LWOP for all murderers of any age, and that swept in some juvenile killers, but at the same time they notched down the natural life sentence for killers under age 18 while they instituted LWOP for adult killers as an adjustment.

Effectively there weren’t really any JLWOP cases in Texas – there was just a big scramble to re-do sentencing for ALL murderers in Texas. Now that there is LWOP in Texas, fewer murderers are being sentenced to death, though they still lead the nation in executions.


Here are just SOME of the lies they told in 2011 in the media, before the legislature, to victims, to the public, to those they were trying to persuade:

Summary of Lies Told by Human Rights Watch During the SB 9 Campaign



ELIZABETH CALVIN and her team stated: “California has the worst record in the nation for racial disparity in the imposition of life without parole for juveniles. African American youth are sentenced to life without parole at over 18 times the rate of white youth. Hispanic youth are sentenced to life without parole five times more often than white youth.”


The actual figures that show the makeup of the current lwop population is as follows:

Racial Data on Offenders Who Were Under 18 at the Time of the Offense Who Were Sentence to Life Without Parole:
According to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, offenders in their custody who were under 18 at the time of the offense and who have been sentenced to life without parole have the following racial/ethnic backgrounds:

Race          Number                       Percentage
White                    40                    13.6%
Latino                  128                    43.4%
Black                     92                    31.2%
Other                     35                    11.8%
Total                    295                  100.0%

This compares to the racial/ethnic background of homicide arrestees in general in California, as reported in the Department of Justice’s Homicide in California 2009 report as follows:

White:                                           19.0%
Hispanic/Latino:                            50.3%
Black:                                            23.8%
Other:                                              6.9%
Total:                                            100.0%

Therefore, juvenile murderers who are whites and Hispanics/Latinos are somewhat less likely to receive a sentence of life without parole than their proportion of homicide arrestees in general, but blacks and “other” juvenile murderers are somewhat more likely to receive this sentence than their proportion of homicide arrestees.  Arguments by supporters of a 40 to 1 ratio of black to white defendants are wildly inaccurate.


HRW and SB9 proponents consistently misrepresent facts and statistics about offenders convicted under felony murder rule. They allege that forty-five percent of jlwop offenders were not actual killers.


Statewide only 22 percent of jlwop offenders were convicted under felony murder rule of aiders and abettors. In L.A. County, the figure rose to 24 percent, primarily  attributable  to the number of drive by shootings  where the driver was convicted and sentenced to lwop, and the large number of gang related murders where there was a special circumstance finding that the murder was carried out to benefit a street gang. These statistics and facts were garnered from reviewing the actual court files of the jlwop offenders.  This definitely falls short of the forty five percent that HRW and SB9 proponents cite.

Misrepresentation about involvement in crime itself

Of those convicted under felony murder rule, SB9 proponents often portray them as passive “lookouts” or having minimal involvement in the murder itself. They also portray the murders being done without the knowledge or intent of the offender. This is simply not so. 


These offenders took active roles: many of them were drivers in drive by gang shootings; many were robbers who also carried weapons and discharged or brandished them during crime or physically assaulted victim before the co-defendant killed them; several set the crime in motion planning it and providing weapons to actual shooter (some of these were retaliatory, some were murder for hire for financial greed cases). These facts were garnered from reviewing the actual court files of the jlwop offenders. 


HRW and SB9 often cite the case of Christian Bracamontes as the poster child for SB9. They describe his case as follow: 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.


            This is from the actual court file of Christian Bracamontes of Riverside County:

Bracamontes was convicted of the murder of the fifteen year-old victim Thomas Williams during the commission of a robbery with a special circumstance finding that he participated in the robbery knowing that another principal was armed.  He received life without possibility of parole for his role in the felony murder plus a one -year consecutive sentence.

Bracamontes and his co-defendant Jose Morales went to a wash basin to “tag”, along with the co-defendant’s younger brother. Before leaving, Bracamontes asked his co-defendant did he have his handgun with him, and encouraged Morales to bring the gun. Another group of four young males were at the wash basin to smoke marijuana. Bracamontes took the handgun from Morales’ backpack and stuck it in his sweatshirt. Bracamontes asked the victim if he had painted over his tag and the victim replied no. The victim then asked Bracamontes and his friends if they wanted to buy marijuana. They declined as they had no money.

The Bracamontes trio then discussed robbing the victim and his friends. Morales’ younger brother refused to take part in the robbery and left Bracamontes and Morales at the basin, telling them they were stupid. After confronting the victim again, Bracamontes took the gun from his sweatshirt, handed the gun to Morales who immediately shot Thomas Williams during the robbery.

Misleading about Victims in support of SB9

The proponents have had two victims testify at legislative subcommittee hearings regarding their support of SB9. While we truly sympathize for the loss they have suffered as a result of their family member being murdered, we would note that these victims are not victims of the 295 jlwop offenders in California, thus would not be affected by the multiple sentencing hearings and possible parole hearings the victims of jlwop inmates would be subject to if SB9 passes. This is also true of Aqeela Sherrills and his daughter Oya who publically have stated their opposition to SB9. There has not been an arrest made in the 2006 killing of their son/brother Terrell, therefore they also do not fall within the category of a surviving victim of a jlwop offender.