On this page we will try to post any information we have about efforts that affect victims families of teen killers in states other than California, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois that all have their own pages due to the size of their juvenile lifer populations. We welcome any more information to post here! States are covered below in ALPHA order.
Sept. 2013 The Alabama Supreme Court finds the US Supreme Court ruling in Miller v Alabama is NOT RETROACTIVE.
A letter to the legislature from NOVJL member Mary Anne Rippey in response to legislation filed (unsuccessfully, as we see time and time again with bills of this type):
April 13, 2009
To Alabama State Legislators:
I respectfully request that you allow me to live the rest of my days in peace. Peace in knowing that the person who has been convicted of murdering my brother Joseph Daniel (Danny) Sledge will stay in prison. Nathan Boyd was tried, convicted and a jury of twelve decided on life without parole instead of death. I understand the state is under great pressure to have a balanced budget. I too am under great pressure trying to explain to my brother’s children, grandchildren, parents, siblings and a host of family and friends why the state of Alabama continues to put us through a process we never wanted to be a part of.
I respectfully request that you do not support House Bill 714 and if you do support this bill, please respond to my request. I really need an explanation to the reasoning that anyone would support this bill. Stand publically and let us here your explanation of why a person that has such little regard for someone else’s life should be considered for this bill. Do we not have laws to arrest, try and sentence a person of a crime? Do we not have an appeal process? Why then does our state legislature need to override a jury’s decision?
This is madness.
The second defendant Eric Boyd will get out one day. We understand the process of parole and will participate in the process. Please just one time in the ten years since my brother has been murdered may I count on any Legislators from North Alabama to stand with victims and say we are for the judicial process and we will see that sentences handed down will be carried out?
Respectfully, Mary Anne Rippey
A bill that proposed retroactively ending life sentences for murderers who committed their crimes before age 18 goes down to rapid defeat. Read our press release.
Despite a heavy push by well-funded advocates for juvenile offenders convicted of murder and sentenced to life, as of summer 2013, legislation to free the teen killers, opposed by most victims families due to its ‘overreach’, has been defeated. Coverage from “Connecticut News Junkie” includes expressions of concern about victims by legislators who opposed the bill.
This state was the focus of the Supreme Court ruling in the Graham v. Florida case because of its status as the state with the highest number of violent juvenile offenders sentenced to life for serious crimes less than homicide, such as multiple attempted murders, and repeated rape offenses. With the Supreme Court directing the state to offer some sort of review for possible early release, the Florida legislature and courts are all in the process of creating new rules and standards for those non-homicide life sentences. We have been told approximately 7 states had non-homicide life sentences, but single digit numbers of cases – truly exceptional sentence. All of them will have to re-evaluate the cases.
Unfortunate results of this Supreme Court decision include not only the obvious worry and significantly increased emotional burden borne by their victims, but the fact that states were in fact punished for using a punishment judiciously – RARELY. The Supreme Court specifically cited the very rare use of the life sentence for non-homicide in defense of its ruling. The Constitution does grant to states the right to set crimes and punishments. But this Supreme Court found the Florida law cruel and unusual. We were gratified however in the Court’s affirmation of the appropriateness of life sentences for murder cases, even if the offender is a teen.
We hope that the State of Florida will give the victims of the non-homicide life sentenced offenders significant notice and support in the murky process that now lies ahead for them. We believe victims deserve LEGAL FINALITY.
We hope and pray that whatever outcomes in these legal cases, the victims families will not have to spend the rest of their lives constantly having to re-engage with the offenders.
Indiana’s courts and legislature continue to uphold the value of life sentences in rare serious cases of teen killers.
With the US Supreme Court ruling in Miller v Alabama throwing victims lives into chaos, the most proactive Governor in the nation took action to help victims families and commuted all the potentially affected offenders to 60 year sentences. We hear that he did this in consultation with most of the victims’ families and commend him for his thoughtful action. Offenders there challenged this and in August 2013 the Iowa Supreme Court went against the national trend and ruled that the Miller Supreme Court ruling is retroactive, thereby sending many under age 18 convicted murders back for new sentencing hearings.
The family of Emily Johnson, murdered by a 13 year old predator, 19 days short of the birthday that would allow him to be prosecuted with options to retain him in the criminal justice system, were he found to be dangerous, is now working to pass HF 1428 – Emily’s Law. The Minnesota House Judiciary Committee will hear the bill again on May 6, 2011. This bill gives more options to courts and prosecutors to charge the rare instance of a 13 year old who commits extremely violent and intentional homicides so that they can stay in prison past their 18th birthday, if warranted. Emily’s murderer is already walking free in the state of Minnesota at the age of 19. The Johnson family asks everyone in Minnesota to contact their state legislators and urge them to support HF 1428, Emily’s Law.
The Missouri Supreme Court hears case of teen cop-killer – read news article that reveals the “chip away” strategy of offender advocates.
(We have been keenly aware for years that the whole effort to offer parole to teen killers is part of a larger national strategy to end all long term and life sentences, no matter the seriousness of the offense.)
An offender whose case was still open under “direct appeal” after his conviction and sentence to natural life for horrific murders is getting a new sentencing hearing. But the state is falling into line with the national trend interpreting the Miller v Alabama ruling. They are not applying the ruling retroactively to cases not still open under direct appeal.
Oregon voters passed Measure 11 in 1994 which requires 15,16 and 17 year olds be automatically remanded (waived) to adult court for 16 violent crimes. Aggravated murder was inadvertently left out of the measure. The Oregon legislature adopted laws in the 1995 session that provided 15, 16 and 17 year olds be treated as adults for aggravated murder. The sentence in Oregon for aggravated murder is life without the possibility of parole or life with the possibility of parole after 30 years. The jury makes that determination in a penalty phase after the guilt phase of the trial. In a bench trial the judge makes the penalty determination.
Younger juveniles, 12,13 and 14 years old can be remanded (waived) to adult court for aggravated murder through a discretionary judicial hearing. Prior to the passage of Measure 11 in 1994 and the subsequent action by the Oregon legislature in 1995, juveniles 12 through 17 could be remanded to adult court through a discretionary judicial hearing only. That statute had been in effect since 1983 or 1985. The sentence in Oregon for aggravated murder is the death penalty, life without the possibility of parole or life with the possibility of parole after 30 years. The jury makes that determination in a penalty phase after the guilt phase of the trial. In a bench trial the judge makes the penalty determination. In Oregon, even before the U.S. Supreme Court decision, juveniles were not sentenced to the death penalty.
Crime Victims United of Oregon
As teen killers try to use the Miller v Alabama Supreme Court ruling against mandatory life sentences for retroactive early release, the State of South Dakota joins the majority of states in denying that retroactive application is legal and fighting for victims families.
December 2013 – One judge orders a retroactive application of Miller for a re-sentencing of the killer of an NOVJL victim’s family member. January 2014 – Read the South Dakota Court’s ruling on the case. The state decided not to fight Judge Brown’s ruling and allow the offender to be re-sentenced, for a variety of complex reasons, including the Judge’s position in the state, but also because they are confident of the offender’s guilt and ultimate outcome of the re-sentencing.
Update from Texas June 2013 – the Senate has passed legislation during a special session to bring Texas into compliance with Supreme Court protocols regarding teens who commit capitol murder.
Previously in Texas:
In June 2009 the State of Texas joined Colorado as the only other state at that time to end life without parole sentences for offenders under age 18. California passed such legislation years later in 2012 when the US Supreme Court ruled in Miller v Alabama.
Several years ago, Colorado abolished JLWOP only prospectively, protecting at least the current victims families. The legislation still sets a serious penalty for teen murderers and set the first parole review at 45 years out, with reviews only every 5 years. While victims rights have NOT been respected in these cases, and victim notification has not taken place in advance of legislation, which we feel is absolutely essential, NOVJL feels that this legislative model is the least offensive of possible models for any state that makes the difficult decision to make changes to their JLWOP statutes:
- prospective changes only, not retroactive: relying on the Clemency process to deal with any current cases where there may be miscarriage of justice
- a long initial sentence without any parole opportunities (Colorado 45 years before they are considered for release, Texas 30-40)
- a long period between parole reviews
- only in states where parole is already in place
- finally, this process respects the states rights model – it IS the pervue of states, not courts, not Congress, to revise their sentencing laws
How Texas and Colorado’s bills differ from other proposals in other states:
1. The Bill is PROSPECTIVE only – not retroactive. This takes victims rights off the table as an issue. And while we hate to think of any future victims’ families having to face frequent parole hearings, at least this law will be something they will KNOW from the start and be able to prepare for. There will be no bait and switch. And in Texas JLWOP is still available, just not mandatory. There are many nationally who believe that all sentencing should be discretionary, since facts of criminal cases vary so widely.
However we can certainly support states wishing to consider creating the most option possible for prosecutors and judges in these cases. The key will be to give added legal protections for juveniles who are close to adult age, who are found to be culpable in extremely heinous offenses, and still allow their transfer and sentencing to the appropriate sentence, which in some rare cases we know will be natural life for those worst of the worst.
Where states decide that their laws may need to be reformed with regards to JLWOP, Texas best provides a glimpse of a model of how to do so: reform by eliminating the mandatory transfer and sentencing that takes away judicial discretion, but still allows the life sentence where appropriate. And set a “bottom age” somewhere around 15, where statistics show the numbers of cases drops dramatically. Victims families in the future should not have to suffer.
2. 16 and 17 year olds – by far the overwhelming majority nationally of JLWOP cases – remain eligible for Life Sentences
We have long been saying that we should look at the FACTS when discussing life sentences for extremely violent offenders under age 18. The facts are that the vast majority of these cases, and they are all very rare in any case, are given to 16 and 17 year olds, who in many states are fully adult by law in already. The numbers of 15 and under who receive this sentence is so incredibly small, that reasonable “bright lines”, which the law often has to draw, seem to work well at this point.
3. The offender is not eligible for parole hearings early – for possible release until 30, or 40 years (depending on the crime) after their conviction. This protects victims for a long time and gives the offender plenty of time to age and mature to a place of less danger.
4. Texas is a state where parole is a regular and routine part of the criminal justice system, with established procedures in place. One of our major objections to JLWOP reformers elsewhere is their insistence that parole is the only answer when so many states have no parole structures, and it would make no sense in states to establish one to deal with only a handful of cases as JLWOP represents. But in those states already with parole, to create a prospective reform to offer parole after a long period of time of initial incarceration, and with the victims knowing from the moment of sentencing that this will be the procedure, will make all the difference.
States with determinate sentencing and no parole structures, like for example Illinois, cannot and should not ever adopt such a model as Texas has, however.
5. There are only four cases of JLWOP in Texas. Any concerns with those cases can and should easily be addressed through the regular routes of appeals and clemency. And this demonstrates our point nationally – that there are so few numbers of these cases that they can all easily be addressed in states through those normal routes. And there is no need therefore to take expansive and expensive and re-traumatizing across the board measures that would require ALL victims families to go through regular parole hearings in cases sentenced to life without parole.
And that is a long OTHER discussion – why determinate sentencing is better, by the way. Even the offenders prefer it because it is earned time out of the sentence based only on their own good behavior, and not the all too often wrong and discriminatory decisions of a politically appointed parole board. Only in life sentences, in those rare very serious capital murder situations, would there be no earned release.