Lawmakers pass new sentencing limits for juveniles

Lincoln Journal Star 5/3/13

By JoANNE YOUNG / Lincoln Journal Star

A bill that would change sentences for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder is in the hands of the governor.

With the bill (LB44), juveniles could be sentenced to a minimum 40 years to life, with eligibility for parole after 20 years. Judges could continue to use discretion on life sentences for young people who commit first-degree murder. And they could sentence a youth to more than the minimum.

The bill grew out of the state’s need to act on a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that indicated states must provide some meaningful opportunity for release based upon demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.

The courts would have to consider mitigating factors in sentencing, such as age, maturity and home environment, including previous abuse of the juvenile.

LB44 passed final reading Thursday on a 38-1 vote.

Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad was the lone vote against it.

“I just felt like the mandatory minimums were too extensive, particularly when we are talking about juveniles,” she said.

But there are good aspects of the bill, Conrad said.

“And I appreciate the hard work and compromise that the committee and the sponsors and other members diligently worked on.”

The Judiciary Committee had advanced the bill to the full Legislature with an amendment that called for a minimum sentence of 30 years to life, with the possibility of parole after 15 years.

The bill doesn’t address retroactive action for those inmates who committed their crimes as juveniles and are serving life sentences. Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Ashford has said the courts would have to address that.

If signed by the governor, those men and women serving mandatory life sentences could file requests to have their sentences reviewed.

Several inmates already have filed motions to correct illegal sentences, including Ahmad Jackson, Omaha, who was 16 at the time of his crime; Joseph McDonald, Omaha, who was 16; and Dwayne Tucker, Omaha, who was 17.

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