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Lawmakers ease life sentences for young offenders

Posted July 2, 2012

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— Those convicted of first-degree murder for crimes committed before they were 18 years old would have a chance at parole under a bill a House Judiciary Committee approved Monday morning.

The House passed the measure 111-6. The Senate voted 40-1 in favor late Monday night. The measure now goes to Gov. Bev Perdue for her signature. 

Senate Bill 635 responds to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v Alabama. The high court ruled that it is unconstitutional for state to have a sentencing system that requires life sentences any crime committed by someone under age 18.

Under North Carolina's current laws, the only options for sentencing are life in prison or, for those over age 18, death.

"Something needs to be in place for folks who otherwise might just be in limbo," said Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake. "Otherwise, the courts might just have to jury-rig something."

According to the state Division of Adult Correction, there are 88 inmates currently in the state prison system who need to be re-sentenced under the Supreme Court ruling. Dozens of other cases at various stages of trial could also be affected. 

The proposed legislation creates a sentences of life with the possibility of parole for young people convicted of murder. Those who receive that sentence must serve at least 25 years before they are eligible for parole. The parole period would last five years.

Those who are convicted solely under the felony murder rule – the murder happened during the commission of another crime but was not premeditated – would automatically received life with parole.

For those who were under 18 but were found to have in some way planned the crime, the court would move to a sentencing phase. During that hearing, the court would have to take into account factors such as the defendant's immaturity, ability to appreciate the consequences of his conduct, prior record, mental health and potential for rehabilitation.

"That seems to make good sense," said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, who said that he backed the bill. 

The measure also directs the state's sentencing commission to study the laws for sentencing those under 18 and report back if further changes are needed. 

Rep. Alice Bordsen, D-Alamance, said she worried that defendants released on parole could find themselves back in prison for "any violation," something she said could lead to someone being recommitted. 

Glazier said the parole commission doesn't usually send people back to prison for small transgressions. 

"I appreciate your solicitude for these parolees, but keep in mind they've all been convicted of first-degree murder," Stam said. 

Following the house committee, the bill had a relatively easy path through both the House and Senate. Lawmakers of both parties agreed that it needed to be done.

The measure now goes to Gov. Bev Perdue for her signature or veto. 

24 Comments

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  • rk1115 Jul 3, 2012

    Bob.. the law clearly states that if a person under the age of 18 is a minor. Therefore they should be tried as a minor and be given sentences justifiable for a minor. Life in prison is not justifiable for a minor.

  • westernwake1 Jul 3, 2012

    "kids are judged incapable of all sorts of decisions like having sex, drinking, driving etc but commit a crime and suddenly they are 100% responsible?" - Tcheuchter

    How's that again, the age of consent is 16 (lower in some states), driving starts at 15 .... but these juveniles suddenly commit crimes and then you view that they have no responsibility for their actions.

    Note that most western countries are following the path of locking up juveniles for long adult sentences for serious crimes. The U.S. is not the only country not willing to put up with juvenile criminals anymore. IMO, lock them up and throw away the key if they murder people.

  • Bob3425 Jul 3, 2012

    rk1115 - why not. If they are old enough to kill they are old enough for life in prison. how about this once the victim come back to life they can be released. Tcheuchter - no but see answer above.

  • Tcheuchter Jul 3, 2012

    "anyone under the age of 18 should not get charged as an adult nor should ever face life in prison."

    Thats the way is in most other countries.........Its weird, kids are judged incapable of all sorts of decisions like having sex, drinking, driving etc but commit a crime and suddenly they are 100% responsible?

  • rk1115 Jul 3, 2012

    anyone under the age of 18 should not get charged as an adult nor should ever face life in prison.

  • Tcheuchter Jul 3, 2012

    "Why is always about the criminal!"

    because thats who is in jail?

    Seriously, do you really think the decision of a 14 year old kid is the same as an adult??????

  • makeitright Jul 3, 2012

    This decision is a crime in itself

  • paulkelly Jul 3, 2012

    Wonder if they can "ease" the life sentences of the families who lost loved ones at the hands of these murderers?

  • dollibug Jul 3, 2012

    +++"Something needs to be in place for folks who otherwise might just be in limbo," said Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake. "Otherwise, the courts might just have to jury-rig something."

    I find the above statement, which is in the article above, quite funny..there are a lot of people in *limbo* and the courts actually already *jury-rig* a lot of things today..

    I often question, who is really *minding the courts*? And I am not sure that anyone even knows..who oversees what is going on in our *investigations and court systems? Who makes sure that what these people do is legal and lawful and professional? Our North Carolina General Assembly are the only people who can make a difference and change what is going on in our NC Judicial System..and I am not even sure that they are *aware of the issues or even care*..(for lack of a better word)..

    I have been *blessed (or perhaps cursed) with many *visits to NC COURTS for several years now and have witnessed firsthand what goes on.

  • lumberman Jul 3, 2012

    Another genius move by the government. Lesson here kill while you are young. And you will be out before you know it. You victim is still dead but you are out scott free. The gangs already know this that is why the young kids in gangs do most of the shootings.

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