Wednesday 2 February 2011

Nebraska lawmakers discuss how to sentence youths convicted of murder

Should the state be allowed to sentence a minor convicted of murder to life in prison without parole?
Omaha Sen. Brenda Council thinks not.
The Legislature's Judiciary Committee discussed two measures from her on Thursday addressing the issue.
The first (LB202) would permit youths convicted of murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole to petition for a re-sentencing hearing after 15 years in prison. It would create an intense, three-part review process that would result in the possibility of a lesser sentence for an offender who has matured and proved him or herself to have changed.
The other (LB203) would remove life imprisonment as a possible penalty for youths who are convicted of murder. It would allow the court to take into consideration the lack of maturity, age, physical and mental condition of offenders younger than 18. Those who are between 16 and 18 at the time the crime was committed could be sentenced to 50 years. Those younger than 16 could be sentenced to 40 years.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court said teenagers cannot be imprisoned for life without a chance of parole if they haven't killed anyone.
By a 5-4 vote, the court said the Constitution requires that young people serving life sentences must at least be considered for release.
The court ruled in the case of a man, now an adult, who was involved in armed robberies when he was 16 and 17.
"The state has denied him any chance to later demonstrate that he is fit to rejoin society based solely on a nonhomicide crime that he committed while he was a child in the eyes of the law," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. "This the Eighth Amendment does not permit."
Council said there is significant scientific evidence that the thought processes of minors are significantly different than those of adults.
She said she hoped the court ruling would "shed some light and provide more direction in addressing this subject," and in fact, it did.
Life in prison without parole means a denial of hope, Council said.
"It means that good behavior and character improvement are immaterial. It means that whatever the future might hold in store for the mind and spirit of that juvenile, he or she will remain in prison for the rest of his or her natural life.
"This remains the Supreme Court's opinion, which I share, that from a moral standpoint, it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult."
Kevin O'Hanlon

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