Senior California appeals judge Anthony Kline, 83, asked to serve as a juvenile court judge, which he had done 40 years earlier, in 1981. Then, juvenile judges sent many minors into detention. Now, they divert defendants into drug treatment, mental-health counseling or family therapy. Five weeks into his new role, Kline, one of his cases involved a 58-year-old woman. California had passed a bill to help reduce the prison population through resentencing. An inmate serving an inordinately long sentence for a crime committed as a minor could return to juvenile court and have the case reconsidered. The defendant coming to Kline was Jamesetta Guy, who had served 41 years for a crime she committed at 17. In 1981, during his year in juvenile court, Kline presided over the trial of a 15-year-old girl named Sharon Wright for a botched robbery attempt in which a taxi driver was shot and killed. In the taxi with Wright was Jamesetta Guy. Kline sentenced Wright to eight years in custody, but he never learned what happened to Guy, reports the New York Times Magazine.
What led to the long sentence was almost everything that could go wrong for a juvenile defendant. She had no criminal history; the gun wasn’t hers; she grew up in a violently abusive home. The evidence didn’t show premeditated murder. Yet Kline had declared her “unfit” to be tried as a juvenile and sent her to the adult system. By 2022, Guy had been in prison as long as Kline had been a judge. Kline couldn’t remember the details. If Guy stayed in the juvenile system, she would probably get eight years of confinement. If she went to adult court, the maximum punishment was probably around 13 years. Guy ended up being sentenced to 27 years to life. In court this year, Kline told Guy, “The injustices that resulted from my  decision are the cause of my embarrassment. He added, “This does not reflect well on the Board of Parole Hearings. Nor does the earlier district attorney’s conduct reflect well on the criminal-justice system. In my opinion, it can reasonably be argued that Jamesetta Guy had received disproportionate punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.” He ordered Guy released from prison. The Times dissects the original crime and the legal issues that kept Guy behind bars for four decades.