Statement on the passage of the “Juvenile Restoration Act”
On March 30, the Maryland House of Delegates passed HB 409. The Maryland Senate had previously passed SB 494, the companion bill to HB 409. The legislation then headed to Governor Larry Hogan, who vetoed it. But Governor Hogan’s veto was overridden by the Legislature.
NOVJM sought to get this legislation amended due to our concerns with the excessive number of hearings it allows for juvenile offenders. The legislation entitles all juvenile offenders to parole eligibility and three judicial reviews. The judicial reviews are allowed after an offender has served 20 years and are three years apart from each other. Pursuant to Maryland law, juveniles with parole-eligible life sentences will also be entitled to parole hearings starting after 15 years of incarceration, or even 11 ½ years with good behavior.
We feel the need to emphasize the number of chances this Act gives murderers. A juvenile murderer will be entitled to a parole hearing after 11 1/2 or 15 years, plus subsequent parole hearings, a judicial review after 20 years, a judicial review after 23 years, and a judicial review after 26 years.
NOVJM believes this is excessive–within 26 years, violent offenders would be given at least four chances to obtain release–three judicial reviews and at least one parole hearing. And they would be entitled to even more parole hearings later on. Meanwhile, dead victims, like Officer Amy Caprio, Patrick Ward, and John Weed get 0 chances.
While proponents speak often about “second chances”, this legislation gives offenders four or more chances within 26 years. With each parole hearing and judicial review, victims endure severe re-traumatization–conditions suffered as a result of the crimes, such as PTSD, flare up and victims suffer debilitating symptoms, such as panic attacks, flashbacks, and nightmares. Victims of multiple juveniles would be subjected to additional trauma. For example, police officer Amy Caprio was run over with a Jeep and killed by four juveniles. Because of this legislation, her family will re-live the murder at up to 20 different hearings within 26 years.
By giving an excessive number of “second chances”, the legislation forces victims to repeatedly re-live the violent crimes that destroyed their lives. The freedom of violent offenders is placed above the rights of the victims. This is not fair.
NOVJM simply wanted the bills to be amended so that victims would endure fewer re-traumatizing hearings. That was not done. We don’t understand why Maryland lawmakers were unwilling to limit the amount of revictimization. Maryland lawmakers have placed the freedom of violent felons, such as rapist serial killer Alexander Watson and arsonist murderer Benjamin Garris above the rights of victims.
House Bill 409 (“Juvenile Restoration Act”)
FOR the purpose of authorizing a court, when sentencing a minor convicted as an adult, to
5 impose a sentence less than the minimum term required by law; prohibiting a court
6 from imposing a sentence of life without the possibility of parole or release for a
7 minor; authorizing a certain individual to file a motion to reduce the duration of the
8 individual’s sentence; requiring the court to conduct a hearing on a motion to reduce
9 the duration of a sentence; requiring that an individual be present at a hearing on a
10 motion to reduce the duration of a sentence unless the individual waives the right to
11 be present; specifying that the requirement that an individual be present at a certain
12 hearing is satisfied if the hearing is conducted by video conference; authorizing a
13 court to reduce the duration of a sentence for a certain individual under certain
14 circumstances; requiring a court to consider certain factors when determining
15 whether to reduce the duration of a sentence for a certain individual; requiring a
16 court to issue a decision to grant or deny a motion to reduce the duration of a sentence
17 in writing; requiring a certain decision to address certain factors; providing that a
18 subsequent motion to reduce the duration of a sentence may be filed only after a
19 certain period of time; limiting the number of times that an individual may file a
20 motion to reduce the duration of a sentence; and generally relating to the sentencing
21 of minors.
Statements and letters
NOVJM has released a statement on 409/494. It was published in an ABC 2 article.
The push to stop putting juveniles away for life
On Wednesday, January 20, the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers released a statement on the matter saying in part that they oppose “over-sentencing” juvenile offenders that are disproportionate to their crimes and recognize that life without parole may sometimes be a disproportionate sentence for juvenile offenders, however they also say some pose a long-term danger.
While many juvenile offenders have the potential for positive change, there are many who are psychopaths. Psychopaths will always pose a danger because there is no cure or treatment for psychopathy. In such cases, life without parole may be necessary to protect the public.
NOVJM believes that each juvenile offender should be sentenced based on their individual characteristics. Advocates of ending life sentences for juveniles argue that they are categorically less culpable due to the “hallmarks of youth”– impulsivity, susceptibility to peer pressure, etc. However, not all juveniles are the same. Many juvenile criminals do not display any of the “hallmarks of youth.” Rather than being impulsive, they extensively plan out their crimes. And rather than being under peer pressure, they commit their crimes alone. A great example of this is the Donald Torres case from Delaware. Torres broke into the Godt family’s home, spread kerosene around the home, and set it ablaze. He then watched the house burn down with the family inside. The mother, father, three-year-old son, and one-year-old daughter were all killed.
It is nonsensical to say that Torres should not get life without parole because most other juveniles are impulsive and susceptible to peer pressure, even though none of these traits applied to him. We believe that juvenile offenders should be sentenced based on the facts surrounding their specific crimes and not based on the general traits of others in their age group.
Finally, we ask that victims be considered. Murder victims do not get second chances. Many murder victims’ families feel that it is unfair for the killers to be released. They believe that the murderers should not be allowed to enjoy the very freedoms they robbed their loved ones of. To prevent the injustice of an early release, they will fight parole. For these victims, the parole process is incredibly difficult and painful. They suffer nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks. This trauma is intensified when parole hearings are more frequent.
Currently, the national debate regarding life sentences for juveniles is focused on the offenders. Victims are forgotten. We ask that Maryland lawmakers keep us in mind when making decisions that will significantly impact us.
NOVJM released another statement on the bill, which was published in a Fox 5 article.
Maryland General Assembly considers a bill to end life sentences for juveniles
However, many family members of victims feel the legislation takes away their loved one’s justice. In a statement the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers wrote, “In the national debate surrounding the sentencing of juvenile criminals, victims are forgotten. The focus is on the offenders even though they are the ones who chose to place themselves in the positions they are in by committing crimes. The victims did not choose their situations. They truly are the most vulnerable and voiceless people in the criminal justice system. “
NOVJM adds the argument of second chances for offenders is unfair, especially when victims of crimes like murder, don’t have a second chance.
“Proponents of the Juvenile Restoration Act talk about “second chances” and hope and futures. But lost in all this mantra are the victims. Murder victims are denied hope and futures. They don’t get second chances. Many murder victims’ families feel it is unfair for the killers to be released and will try to prevent release by speaking up at hearings,” NOVJM added.
A hearing on the Juvenile Restoration Act is scheduled for Wednesday, February 17 in the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Maryland bans life sentences for juvenile offenders
PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, Md. – Juveniles in Maryland can no longer be sentenced to life without parole. The Maryland General Assembly passed the Juvenile Restoration Act Saturday after the House overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s veto.
But releasing violent offenders early often causes great pain for victim’s families.
“I was horrified. I actually ended up going to seek mental health counseling because I feared for my life,” Gale Seaton said.
Seaton’s 17 year old daughter, Stacey was murdered in 2005 in Bowie. The person convicted of second degree murder in the case served only 10 years in prison. Seaton says she will never forget the day he was released.
“I still fear for my life. People say ‘he’s not going to kill you.’ I said, ‘oh no I don’t think he would but I think he would beat another small drug addicted person or somebody else,” she said.
Seaton says these offenders don’t deserve a second chance.
“You might think it’s unfair but I think it’s unfair that my daughter was murdered. She doesn’t get a second chance,” Seaton said.
People who support the bill say brains aren’t fully developed until people are in their twenties and that children often make bad, impulsive decisions.
“Our system of justice requires us to be balanced and to be fair. Because we are required to be balanced and fair we have to take into consideration an individual’s age and their maturity level,” Braveboy said.
But Seaton doesn’t agree with that argument.
“I’m tired of hearing they’re ‘children’ at the age of 17. Why are we allowing children to drive? Why are we allowing children to hold full time jobs and go to college at 17? And go into the military at 17 but not hold them accountable?” Seaton said. “Yes people lose control at times. I understand that. And they get themselves into situations. I’m not unsympathetic but if you’re going to go as far as murdering someone and act like an adult then you have to expect to be treated like and adult,” she added.
In a statement the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murders said, NOVJM sought to get this legislation amended due to our concerns with the excessive number of hearings it allows for juvenile offenders. The legislation entitles all juvenile offenders to parole eligibility and three judicial reviews… NOVJM simply wanted the bills to be amended so that victims would endure fewer re-traumatizing hearings. That was not done. We don’t understand why Maryland lawmakers were unwilling to limit the amount of revictimization. Maryland lawmakers have placed the freedom of violent felons, such as rapist serial killer Alexander Watson and arsonist murderer Benjamin Garris above the rights of victims.”
Letter to Maryland House
Dear Maryland House of Delegates,
We are the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM). We represent about 380 victims around the country who have lost loved ones to juvenile killers. We are asking you to amend House Bill 409 and make it more considerate of victims.
Many murder victims’ families oppose the release of the killers. To fight release, they speak up at hearings to be a voice for their dead family members who cannot speak for themselves. This forces them to relive the murders. Conditions suffered as a result of the murders, such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety, flare up and they suffer flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms.
Traumatizing criminal justice hearings should be kept to an absolute minimum. HB 409 would give juvenile killers three judicial reviews in addition to several parole hearings. Because HB 409 would prohibit the assailants from receiving life without parole, they would instead be sentenced to life with parole. Under current Maryland law, one with a life with parole sentence is eligible for their first parole hearing after 15 years or even 11 ½ years with good behavior. Thus, juvenile murderers with life sentences would be entitled to parole hearings after 11 ½ or 15 years, plus subsequent parole hearings, a judicial review after 20 years, another judicial review after 23 years, and another judicial review after 26 years. Within 26 years, victims in cases involving one juvenile assailant may endure four or five hearings. Victims in cases involving several juvenile criminals would be re-traumatized even more times. For example, police officer Amy Caprio was run over with a jeep and killed by four juveniles. Under HB 409, her family would re-live the murder at up to 20 different hearings within 26 years.
Proponents of HB 409 talk a lot about “second chances.” But as HB 409 currently stands, juvenile felons, including those responsible for horrific crimes, could get four or five chances in 26 years. Meanwhile, their dead victims, who committed no crimes, are denied even one chance. NOVJM requests that the number of traumatizing parole hearings and judicial reviews be cut back. For example, give the offenders parole eligibility in addition to at least one judicial review. After the first judicial review, allow a judge to deny subsequent reviews without a hearing. Or allow juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole, so long as they can receive two or three judicial reviews. But we feel that it is excessive to mandate parole eligibility in addition to three judicial reviews. By giving excessive chances for release, the current bill ignores victims and places their rights beneath those of the killers.
What you can do
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to do more.
Op-ed by Baltimore County States Attorney
Proposed sentencing changes would traumatize victims’ families for years to come | COMMENTARY
By Scott Shellenberger
For The Baltimore Sun |Apr 02, 2021 at 6:00 AM
On May 21, 2018, Officer Amy Caprio died a terrible death in Baltimore County while responding to a report of burglary. Officer Caprio was intentionally run over by a stolen Jeep driven by Dawnta Harris who was acting as the lookout and getaway driver for three others who were committing their third burglary that day. Her death was recorded on her body camera and played at trial before her heartbroken family.
Her killer was sentenced to life in prison; the other three defendants were sentenced to 30 years. At sentencing, the family was advised that the judge could modify the sentences within the next five years. After that, only parole could shorten the terms. Within the last few months, however, all of that certainty has been put in jeopardy, threatening to further traumatize the victims of violent crime and their families.
The Maryland judiciary’s Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure has proposed changes to sentencing rules that would permit later revision of long sentences if the defendants were under age 25 when the sentences were imposed or the individuals had already served a significant amount of time and reached an advanced age. And several bills before the Maryland legislature are also seeking to allow such sentence amendments.
If the changes are adopted, it will continue the nightmare for Officer Caprio’s family and others like them. By my calculations, family members would have to come back to court three times in 2036, four times in 2038, four times in 2041, three times in 2042, four times in 2044, once in 2048 and once every 6 years thereafter to face a possible reduction of sentence for one of the people whose actions led to their loved ones’ death. All of this will be before a judge who was not at trial. The torture of the family will never end.
Why is this happening?
The movement is to change Maryland Rule 4-345: Sentencing, Revisory Power of Court. This rule has been around for decades. Under it, a defendant’s sentence can be decreased but not increased. Currently, a defendant has to ask for such a modification within 90 days after initial sentencing. A judge can hold the motion but must make a decision within five years. After that period, the judge loses the power to make any changes. That five-year limitation came into existence in 2004 for a valid reason — public outcry.
Among the cases that led to increased calls to consider victims’ rights was that of Vincent Greco. In 1981, Mr. Greco raped and killed his girlfriend’s 79-year-old grandmother. In 1982, he was convicted of murder and rape, and given two consecutive life sentences. In 1992, 10 years after the sentence was imposed, the judge modified the sentence to 50 years. Greco was eventually released. The victim’s family, who originally thought he was away for life, suddenly could see him walking the streets.
The outcry was so strong that in 2001, legislation was drafted to limit a judge’s power to reconsider sentences to one year. Chief Judge Robert Bell declared that the state’s judges would support a limit on the time in which they could reduce sentences, telling the Washington Post that “judges don’t react to public clamor … but, we do react to what is good for the system and society as a whole.” In 2004, as a result of that pronouncement, the five-year limit was placed in the Rule. For 17 years, it has worked.
So, why change the rule and go back to a system that failed victims? Why should we force families back into court, decades after a case is over?
With the proposed change, two categories of inmates could get repeated chances at early release, through a judge’s “look back,” possible every six years. Those eligible include inmates who have been in jail 15 years or more, who reached the age of 65, and inmates who were convicted of committing offenses before the age of 25 and have served more than 15 years or 60% of a longer sentence. The latter is the situation the Caprios would find themselves in, as the defendants in their case were all teenagers at the time of sentencing.
The rationale for allowing modifications to criminals under age 25 relies on the assertion that the brain does not fully develop until age 25. Considering all the rights and responsibilities we give 16-, 18- and 21-year-olds, I am not sure why in the case of murder you are not fully developed, and should not be held fully accountable, until 25.
Under this change, there are 2,795 inmates serving life sentences in Maryland who would get a hearing if they committed their crime before age 25 or are now age 65. There are also 3,249 inmates serving 15 years or more who were age 25 or younger at the time of the crime. That means thousands of families will get a letter from the state to come to court again — repeatedly.
We can’t allow this retraumatizing of victims to happen. A public outcry made a difference 17 years ago, and it can again. Let’s let the courts and legislature know this is not acceptable.
Scott Shellenberger is the state’s attorney for Baltimore County
Lawmakers prepare to override Hogan’s veto of juvenile justice reform bill
ANNAPOLIS, Md. —
Lawmakers are preparing to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a juvenile justice reform bill. The measure allows minors to seek a reduction in their sentences after they serve 20 years in prison.
But there is growing concern that if it becomes law, it will have a devastating impact on crime victims and surviving family members.
Those opposed to the bill argue it makes the state less safe, gives violent criminals a chance for early release and future criminals a break on how long they remain behind bars.
“We are left with an empty spot in our hearts. I don’t understand why so much attention has been given to people who have committed the crime and their welfare,” said Debbie Sorrells, the mother of fallen Baltimore County police Officer Amy Caprio.
Debbie and Gary Sorrells are the parents of Caprio, killed in the line of duty in May 2018. Four teens are serving time for the crime. She responded to a report of a suspicious Jeep. As three teens burglarized homes, the Jeep’s 17-year-old driver ran Caprio over when she ordered him to get out of the car.
Hogan vetoed legislation that prohibits the court to sentence minors to life without parole. The measure also allows the teens to seek a reduction in their sentences after serving 20 years in prison.
|| Read the governor’s veto letter here ||
“What is proposed will cause the family and our extended family and all of our friends to have to go back to square one and relive the entire experience. It renews all the original feelings and turmoil and anxieties that were created at the time,” Gary Sorrells said.
The bill provides an opportunity every three years for defendants to ask a judge to modify their sentence. The Caprio family would have to go back to court and relive the tragedy 13 times in 11 years.
“We think this is horrible for the victims, and we feel like it is really important that this veto stay in place and this not become law,” Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said.
“I cannot imagine having to relieve the worst day of their lives over and over and over again,” Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney Zarena Sita said.
“As things mellow out a little bit and you try to get your life back in order again, it just takes everybody back to this dark abyss that occurred for really no good reason,” Sorrells said.
“With every choice, there is a consequence and I truly believe that those who have committed the crime need to have a consequence,” Debbie Sorrells said.
There are enough votes in the House and Senate to override the governor’s veto. So far, nothing has been scheduled. The session ends midnight Monday.
Maryland Governor Vetoes Bill Prohibiting Juvenile Life Sentences
(NOVJM is mentioned in the video segment at the end).
By Brian Witte • Published April 9, 2021
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a pair of vetoes Thursday night, including a measure that would prevent juveniles charged as adults from being sentenced to life in prison without parole and a bill that would expand the state’s prevailing wage law on public works project contracts.
Hogan also announced a number of measures that will go into law without his signature, including bills to make it easier to vote early or by mail.
Measures approved by the General Assembly aimed at improving to the state’s unemployment system also will go into law without Hogan’s signature.
Both measures vetoed by Hogan were passed by the legislature with enough votes for the General Assembly to override the vetoes. Leaders of the legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, expressed confidence the vetoes will be overridden before lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn on Monday.
While the Republican governor said he supports criminal justice reform, he said the bill he vetoed regarding the sentencing of juveniles pertains to “heinous” crimes such as first-degree murder.
“These are serious crimes that require the most serious of consequences, which is why a judge or jury sentences the individual to a lengthy determinate sentence, life imprisonment, or life imprisonment without parole,” Hogan said.
The bill also would enable a court to impose a sentence less than the minimum term required under law, when sentencing a minor convicted as an adult.
The other measure Hogan vetoed would expand the state’s prevailing wage law to include a public work project contract with a value of $250,000 or more, instead of $500,000, or a public work project in which state funds constitute at least 25% of the construction costs instead of at least 50%. In government contracting, a prevailing wage is defined as the hourly wage normally paid to the majority of workers, laborers, and mechanics within a particular area.
Hogan said the bill would cause negative unintended consequences for employers and workers.
“Legislation such as this that arbitrarily inflates cost, impedes participation, and stifles competition — all at a higher price for taxpayers — absolutely is not in the best interest of our state,” Hogan said.
Some of the measures that will become law without the governor’s signature include legislation to increase the number of early voting centers, based on how many registered voters live in jurisdictions. Another measure allows a voter to request permanent absentee-ballot status and creates provisions governing the designation of ballot drop-box locations.
In his veto letter, Hogan wrote that mail-in voting in Maryland was successful in last year’s election and should continue. However, he said the measure “creates a bureaucratic morass of mailings that will inevitably result in ballots being incorrectly mailed to ineligible voters.”
“While I appreciate provisions in the bill trying to scrub ineligible voters from the list and install security cameras at ballot drop boxes, I believe the legislation in its current form may create more problems than it solves,” Hogan wrote.
The Player’s Coalition released this pro-409 image. It depicts children far younger than the defendants whose sentences could be reduced by 409.
This is very inappropriate and hurtful to victims.
Dear Players Coalition,
We are the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM). We are an organization dedicated to supporting victims whose loved ones were murdered by juveniles. We understand that your organization supports Maryland House Bill 409, which prohibits juvenile criminals from being sentenced to life without parole. To promote HB 409, you released the image shown above. NOVJM is releasing this statement to bring to your attention the pain you are causing by using these kinds of images.
The image above depicts young elementary school-aged children and states “no child should be sentenced to die in prison.”
By using this image, you are saying that children this young are sentenced to spend their lives in prison without a chance for parole, or as you put it, to “to die in prison.” This is not factually accurate. Most offenders who receive life without parole sentences for crimes committed as juveniles were 16 or 17 when they committed those crimes. The very youngest “juvenile lifers” were 14 when they committed the crimes.
The Supreme Court has prohibited juveniles from receiving life without parole for non-homicide crimes. Because of this ruling, only juveniles convicted of murder can be sentenced to life without parole.
The criminals who are supposed to be represented by this image, those sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles, are murderers and were mostly 16 or 17 when they committed those murders. 16 and 17-year-old murderers are not accurately represented by images of scared-looking elementary school-aged children.
By using this picture, you are tricking people into believing that the 16 and 17-year-old murderers who received life sentences were just scared, elementary school aged-children. You are exploiting the natural urge we all have to protect actual children. This is ironic, given the fact that many victims of juvenile murderers were, in fact, young children. Shavanna McCann was a five-year-old child when she was raped and thrown out a 14th story window by a 17-year-old. The Godt children were one and three years old, when they, along with their parents, were burned alive by a 14-year-old. Antonio Angel Santiago was a one-year-old child when he was shot in the face and murdered by a 17-year-old. Jason Foreman was a five-year-old child when he was kidnapped, stabbed to death, and parts of his body eaten by a 16-year-old.
This outrageous propaganda is deeply hurtful to victims. Seeing the murderers who annihilated our loved ones’ hopes and dreams being depicted as vulnerable young children causes intense trauma and anguish. And this is not the first time your organization has hurt victims through the use of propaganda.
While promoting Senate Bill 256 in Ohio, you used photographs of young children, no older than eight years old. Those pictures are shown below. Again, the criminals whose sentences were reduced by SB 256 were mostly 16 and 17 when they committed the crimes. They are not accurately portrayed by pictures of eight-year-old children.
We are begging you to stop using these harmful images. They are inaccurate and propagandistic and are outright offensive to victims. While advocating for the freedom of those who brutally murdered our loved ones, you have disregarded and deeply wounded us. Please stop.