Monday, February 25, 2013

Nebraska considers alternative to life without parole for juveniles

The Nebraska legislature will consider a bill this session that will eliminate life without parole for juveniles and replace it with 30 years to life for people who are convicted of first degree murder while under the age of 18.

The committee originally had considered a sentence of 20 years to life, but committee members who were present appeared more comfortable with a minimum sentence of 30 years. An inmate would be eligible for parole in 15 years, so an 18-year-old would be eligible for parole at 33, reported the Lincoln Journal Star.

The bill is in response to last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision ins Miller v. Alabama where the court struck down mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole for offenders who commit murder as juveniles.

Nebraska's bill does not address whether those serving life terms now for murders they committed as youths could have those sentences changed.

"We're just not going to make it retroactive," Senator Brad Ashford told the Lincoln Journal Star. "In talking to most of the experts that are trying these cases, it's very likely that the courts are going to make it retroactive. And so, we don't want to put something in statute ... that would somehow influence that or make it harder or more difficult."

"It recognizes without question ... what the Supreme Court has clearly stated to be the case in Miller (v. Alabama) about brain development," he said. "I think this is a very fair compromise."

At the hearing on the bill, Dr. Kayla Pope, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Boys Town National Research Hospital, who is also an attorney and neuroscience researcher, testified that research shows adolescents use the more primitive part of their brains, responsible for gut reactions including fear and aggressive behavior, when reasoning or solving problems.

In addition to finding that mandatory life without parole for those younger than 18 violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, the Miller court also ruled that judges must consider all circumstances of a case including a defendant's age, immaturity, impetuosity and failure to appreciate risks and consequences. They must take into account the family and home environment that surrounds the youth, reported the Lincoln Journal Star.

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