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October 18, 2012

Pennsylvania legislature passes "Miller fix" bill with additional juvenile provisions

As reported in this local article from Pennsylvania, a "bill to adjust sentences for juveniles who commit murder and keep regular juvenile offenders out of detention centers goes to the governor for signing after winning final approval Wednesday in the Senate." Here is more:

The measure, approved 37-12, is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June striking down state laws that require juveniles convicted of homicide to life in prison without a chance of parole.

It establishes a sentencing tier for murder tied to the age of a juvenile offender.  For example, a juvenile under age 15 would serve at least 25 years for first-degree murder. Under current state law, individuals convicted of first degree murder face a minimum life term regardless of age.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-12, Willow Grove, requires courts to consider the least restrictive punishment for regular juvenile offenders. This is a response to abuses in the sentencing of juveniles to a for-profit detention center uncovered by the Luzerne County Courthouse scandal....

The bill includes a provision sponsored by Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-119, Newport Twp., to expand the scope of the state Office of the Victim Advocate to include victims of juvenile crime. The office is currently prohibited from advocating for victims of juvenile crime.

This AP article provides a bit more detail on the Miller fix part of this legislation:

The bill would create a new set of sentencing options, with penalties that depend on the age of the defendant and whether they're convicted of first- or second-degree murder. Defendants 14 or younger would serve at least 20 years for second-degree convictions and 25 years for first-degree convictions.  Offenders who are 15- to 17-years old would face at least 25 or 35 years.

This new state legislation, which I assume will get signed into law by the Governor of Pennsylvania, provides a great example of how even narrow constitutional rulings by the judiciary can often prod dynamic and broader criminal justice reforms by other government branches.

October 18, 2012 at 08:33 AM | Permalink

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The Texas Legislature needs to pass some sort of Miller carve-out bill next year. In Texas, 17 year olds are prosecuted as adults, so 17-year olds accused of capital murder are currently left in legal limbo with no constitutional punishment available for them - either LWOP or death - presently on the books. I understand most DAs have just been charging them with "regular" murder unless and until the Lege creates a post-Miller "fix."

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