Thirty-year alternative to juvenile life sentences discussed

Senators began discussing a bill April 8 that would expand sentencing options for juveniles convicted of Class IA felonies.

LB44, introduced by Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, would establish a minimum sentencing option for a juvenile convicted of a Class IA felony. The only sentencing option currently available for juveniles convicted of such offenses is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Ashford said the bill would bring Nebraska into compliance with the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found sentencing juveniles to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The court ruling also determined that mitigating factors should be taken into consideration when sentencing juveniles, Ashford said. Juveniles act impulsively, are easily influenced and often do not comprehend the severity of their actions, he said, and they are capable of rehabilitation as their brains mature.

A pending Judiciary Committee amendment would replace the introduced copy of the bill.

The amendment would require the sentencing court to consider mitigating factors including the juvenile’s age at the time of the offense, their impetuosity, intellectual capacity, mental health status, family and community environment and ability to appreciate the risks and consequences of his or her conduct.

The amendment also would establish that juveniles who were younger than 18 years old at the time the offense was committed and were denied parole would be eligible for a parole hearing each year thereafter. The parole board must review and consider the juvenile’s:
• educational and court documents;
• level of participation in the offense;
• age at the time of the offense, level of maturity and intellectual capacity;
• ability to appreciate the risks and consequences of his or her conduct;
• efforts toward rehabilitation and participation in available rehabilitative and educational programs while incarcerated; and
• any other mitigating circumstance submitted by the juvenile.

Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh said the proposed minimum sentence is not mandatory, so a juvenile who is convicted of a heinous crime could earn “good time” and be eligible for parole after serving only 15 years.

He brought an amendment that was divided into two components for ease of debate. One component, which failed on a 15-27 vote, would have eliminated from the bill the court’s requirement to consider mitigating factors when sentencing such juveniles.

The second component would increase the proposed 30-year minimum sentence to 60 years. This proposal failed on a 21-23 vote.

Additional amendments are pending.

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