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December 14, 2010

Nebraska lawmaker seeking to end LWOP for juveniles in state

As detailed in this local article, which is headlined "Seeking an end to teens doing life," at least one Nebraska state legislator is eager to get rid of LWOP for all juvenile offenders. Here are the details:

For State Sen. Brenda Council, it's common sense: Criminals under the age of 18 should not be sentenced to life in prison without a chance at parole. Her reasoning: While their crimes as teenagers were horrendous, people mature, changing dramatically from their teen years to mid-30s, 40s or 50s.

Studies have shown that a teen's brain is not fully developed. Youths face pressures from gangs and peers. Imprisoning a person for decades is costly.

The sentence amounts to “death by incarceration,” she said. Still, Council acknowledges, her view is unpopular in Nebraska, one of the states that allow young people to be sentenced to life without a chance for parole.

Even so, Council plans to submit a bill during the next legislative session that would change sentencing guidelines. Those convicted as teens — or younger — should at least get a parole hearing some years down the road, she said. Her proposed bill would not guarantee parole.

About 25 people joined the Omaha legislator Monday evening at a panel discusion on how to help the underdog proposal make it into state law. Those in attendance included another state senator, Bob Krist; Family members of some of the 27 people in Nebraska sentenced as juveniles to life; and even a mother who has become an advocate for the man who helped kill her son when both were teens....

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last spring that a life sentence without parole for juveniles who have committed crimes other than murder violates the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Readers who know American political science realize that Nebraska has a unicameral legislature with 49 members, so State Senator Brenda Council will only need to convince 29 of her colleagues to get her bill passed.  This is important not only in Nebraska, but if there is a continuing movements in many states to ban all LWOP sentences for all juvenile offenders, the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment doctrine could evolve to make such sentences ultimately unconstitutional. 

December 14, 2010 at 09:28 AM | Permalink

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