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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform: Adjudication and Sentencing

Adjudication & Sentencing : 2013 | 2012 | 2011 


  • Arkansas Eliminates Mandatory Sentence of Life without Parole for Youth Convicted of Capital Murder
    Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, Arkansas passed legislation that eliminates mandatory life without parole sentences for youth convicted of capital murder for offenses committed prior to the age of 18. The new law allows instead a sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 28 years. Prior to this revision, any youth convicted of capital murder received a mandatory sentence of life without parole. The law is not retroactive. H.B. 1993/Act No. 1490, signed into law and effective April 22, 2013.
  • California Requires Meaningful Opportunity for Release on Parole: Citing the holdings and reasoning from Miller v. Alabama, Graham v. Florida, and People v. Caballero, California passed legislation to increase parole opportunities for individuals sentenced to long terms for serious crimes committed when they were youth. Prior law allowed individuals to submit a petition for recall and resentencing after serving 15 years. Now, people are automatically eligible for a "meaningful opportunity" for release on parole during the 15th year of incarceration if they received a determinate sentence, during the 20th year if they received a sentence less than 25 years to life sentence, and during the 25th year if they received a 25 years to life sentence. The law requires the parole board to give "great weight to the diminished culpability of juveniles as compared to adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity." The law also allows statements from family members, friends, school personnel, faith leaders, and representatives from community-based organizations who knew the individual prior to the crime or who can comment on the individual's growth and maturity since the commission of the crime. The law does not apply to individuals sentenced for "three strikes" offenses or individuals sentenced to life without parole. S.B. 260/Act No. 312, signed into law September 16, 2013; effective January 1, 2014.
  • Colorado — Youth Who Are Wrongly Incarcerated May Receive Compensation: Colorado passed legislation to provide compensation for a person or an immediate family member of a person who was wrongly convicted of a felony or adjudicated delinquent, incarcerated, and exonerated. The bill establishes procedures for eligible people—including youth—or their family members to petition a district court for monetary compensation, tuition waivers at state institutions of higher education, compensation for child support payments, reasonable attorneys’ fees, and the amount of any fine, penalty, court cost, or restitution. H.B. 1230/Act No. 409, signed into law and effective June 5, 2013.
  • Delaware Eliminates Juvenile Life Without Parole: Delaware modified its juvenile sentencing laws in order to bring them into compliance with the Miller v. Alabama U.S. Supreme Court decision. The law eliminates the sentence of juvenile life without parole and replaces it with a sentence of 25 years to life for convictions of first degree murder. The law allows anyone sentenced to more than 20 years in adult prison as a juvenile to petition for sentence modification. Such reviews must take place no later than 30 years into a sentence for first degree murder convictions and after 20 years for all other cases. The bill applies retroactively, applying to anyone serving a life without parole sentence for an offense committed before he or she turned 18. S.B.9/Act No. 37, signed into law and effective June 4, 2013.
  • Iowa Supreme Court Eliminates Mandatory Life without Parole Sentences for Youth: Coming into compliance with the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, the Iowa Supreme Court abolished mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole for youth. The court issued opinions in three separate cases, all citing the unique rehabilitative qualities of youth and stating that adolescence should be a mitigating factor in sentencing. Notably, in Iowa v. Null, the court invalidated a mandatory minimum sentence of 52.5 years, and in Iowa v. Pearson, the court rejected a 35-year sentence, finding that although neither were sentences of life without parole, the length of the sentences still “violate the core teachings of Miller.” In Iowa v. Ragland, the court held that the Miller decision must be applied retroactively to youth who have already been convicted, allowing hundreds of youth to seek resentencing. State of Iowa v. Null, No. 11–1080 (2013), State of Iowa v. Pearson, No. 11–1214 (2013), State of Iowa v. Ragland, No. 12–1758 (2013).
  • Louisiana Replaces Mandatory Life Without Parole Sentences for Youth with 35 Year Mandatory Minimums: In order to comply with Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), Louisiana passed legislation establishing parole eligibility for certain youth sentenced to life imprisonment for homicide offenses. However, it replaced the life without parole sentence with a 35 year mandatory minimum sentence which is not retroactive. When sentencing youth convicted of first- or second-degree murder, the court must conduct a hearing to determine whether any life sentence should include parole eligibility, taking into consideration the facts of the crime, criminal history, level of family support, and social history of the youth. The law creates specific criteria that must be met in order for someone sentenced to life imprisonment as a youth to become eligible for parole, including: completion of thirty-five years of the sentence; no discipline offenses within the past twelve months; completion of at least 100 hours of pre-release programming; completion of substance abuse treatment, if applicable; completion of a diploma, GED, or literacy, adult basic education, or job training program; designation as low-risk after a validated risk assessment; and completion of a reentry program. Additionally, at the parole hearing, board members must consider an evaluation by an expert in adolescent brain development and behavior.  H.B. 152/Act No. 239, signed into law June 12, 2013; effective August 1, 2013.
  • Maryland Limits Offenses Eligible for Out-of-Home Placement: Maryland passed legislation that prohibits out-of-home placement for youth adjudicated for certain minor offenses, including possession of marijuana, possession or purchase of a non-controlled substance, disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct, malicious destruction of property, or an offense involving inhalants, prostitution, theft, or trespassing. Judges may continue to order treatment for youth in the community or may place youth with another agency. The law provides exceptions for youth who have been previously adjudicated for three or more separate and independent offenses or upon a written finding from the court that out-of-home placement is deemed necessary for public safety or the child’s welfare. H.B. 916/Act No. 651, signed into law May 16, 2013; effective October 1, 2013.
  • Massachusetts Eliminates Sentences of Life without Parole for Youth: Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama, Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court outlawed all sentences of life without parole for crimes committed by youth under age 18. Diatchenko v. District Attorney for Suffolk District, 466 Mass. 655 (2013). The court cited concerns related to the disproportionality of the sentence when it is applied to youth, and the fact that it is impossible for a court to determine that a youth under age 18 is “irretrievably depraved.” Diatchenko also held that Miller must be applied retroactively, allowing over 60 people serving life without parole sentences for crimes committed when they were 18 to become eligible for parole after serving at least a 15-year sentence. A separate decision ruled that the Diatchenko decision also had to be applied to currently pending cases. Commonwealth v. Marquise Brown, 466 Mass. 676 (2013). Over 80 existing cases were directly impacted by the ruling.
  • Michigan — Federal Court Orders Michigan to Eliminate Mandatory Life without Parole Sentences for Youth: A federal judge ordered the state of Michigan to immediately comply with the Miller v. Alabama U.S. Supreme Court decision, which eliminates mandatory sentences of life without parole for crimes committed by youth under age 18. The order states that the state must give notice of eligibility of parole to all individuals who have served ten years of their sentence, and to create an administrative structure to process and determine parole for these individuals in a “fair, meaningful, and realistic” manner. Additionally, the order states that the parole board must explain its reasoning in each case; sentencing judges may not veto parole decisions; and the state may not deny individuals sentenced to juvenile life without parole access to any educational or training programs that are available to the general prison population. However, the ruling is currently under appeal and the state attorney general has put a stay on any reviews by the parole board. Hill v. Snyder, Case No.10-14568 (E.D. Mich., Nov 26, 2013).
  • Nebraska Eliminates Mandatory Juvenile Life without Parole: Coming into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama, Nebraska eliminated mandatory sentences of life without parole for offenses committed by youth under the age of eighteen. Under the new law, youth may still be sentenced to 40 years to life. At sentencing, courts must consider mitigating factors, including the youth’s age, family and community environment, intellectual capacity, mental health, and “ability to appreciate the risks and consequences” of his or her conduct. After becoming eligible for parole, if individuals are denied, they must be reconsidered each subsequent year. The Board of Parole must consider individuals’ participation in educational and rehabilitative programs, maturity level, intellectual capacity, and other mitigating factors. L.B. 44, signed into law May 8, 2013; effective September 6, 2013.
  • North Carolina Appeals Court Prohibits Extending a Youth’s Probationary Period Retroactively:  North Carolina youth had been sentenced to probation and committed a new offense two months after his probation ended. The trial court retroactively extended the youth’s probationary period, and then committed the youth to a youth development center based on additional “delinquency points” assigned to the youth for the commission of an offense while on probation. The youth filed a motion to modify his sentence, based on the fact that he wasn’t actually still on probation when the new offense was committed. The Court of Appeals invalidated the trial court’s order denying the youth’s motion to modify his sentence, stating that while a trial court may modify a youth’s probationary period within a reasonable amount of time after its expiration, it may not determine on a retroactive basis that it had extended a youth’s probation, and then assign additional delinquency points for the commission of a new offense during the retroactively extended probationary period. In the matter of A.F., 2013 N.C. App. LEXIS 1316.
  • North Carolina Appeals Court Invalidates Commitment Extension Order Issued without Proper Notice: The North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) extended a youth’s commitment period without providing the legally-required written notice to the youth and his parents 30 days before the youth’s commitment was set to expire. Instead, DJJ orally notified the youth and his father. The youth filed a motion for release based on the fact that he and his parents had not received adequate notice of the extension of his commitment. On appeal, the court held that oral notice does not conform with the requirements set forth in North Carolina law, and that the trial court erred in denying the youth’s motion for release. In re J.L.H., 2013 N.C. App. LEXIS 1155.
  • Utah Abolishes Life without Parole for Most Offenses Committed by Youth Under 18: Utah eliminated the sentence of life without parole for most offenses committed by youth under age 18. The legislation was spurred by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, although Utah was not required to change its sentences because it did not have any laws mandating life without parole sentences for youth. Individuals sentenced to life without parole for offenses committed when they were under age 18 are now eligible for parole review after 25 years. S.B. 228/Act No. 81, signed into law March 22, 2013; effective May 14, 2013.
  • Wyoming Bans Mandatory Life without Parole for Youth Under 18: Following Miller v. Alabama and a state Supreme Court case (Bear Cloud v. State, 294 P.3d 36 (2013)), Wyoming eliminated mandatory life without parole sentences for crimes committed by youth under age 18. Youth may still be sentenced to life without parole for certain crimes, but must become eligible for parole once they have served at least 25 years, or if their sentence is commuted to a term of years. H.B. 23/Act No. 18, signed into law February 14, 2013; effective July 1, 2013.

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  • California Allows Resentencing for Certain Youth in Prison The California State Legislature passed a law that allows individuals sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as youth to petition for resentencing after they have served 15 years. At that time, judges have the discretion to change a sentence from life without parole to 25 years to life. The law requires judges to review eight factors related to the petitioner's criminal and developmental history and the petitioner must submit a statement addressing his or her remorse and work towards rehabilitation. If the sentence is not changed on the first attempt, individuals may reapply for resentencing after having served 20 and 24 years. The law is retroactive. S.B. 9/Act No. 828, signed into law September 30, 2012; effective January 1, 2014. 
  • California Supreme Court Strikes Down Life without Parole Sentences for Youth Convicted of Non-Homicide OffensesThe California Supreme Court ruled that youth convicted of non-homicide crimes may not be issued lengthy sentences that are effectively de facto sentences of life without the possibility of parole. This ruling followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Graham v. Florida, which held that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits sentencing youth who are convicted for non-homicide offense to life without the possibility of parole. The California case centered around a 110-year-to-life sentence given to an 18-year-old for crimes he committed at age 16. The California Supreme Court wrote that “the state may not deprive [youth] at sentencing of a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate their rehabilitation and fitness to reenter society in the future.” The People of the State of California v. Rodrigo Caballero, 55 Cal.4th 262, 282 P.3d 291, 145 Cal.Rptr.3d 286 (2012). 
  • Colorado Softens Sentencing Options for Certain Youth: A new Colorado law extends the time period for deferral of adjudication of a youth for a sex offense from one year to two years, with the option to extend it to five years with good cause shown. The extension allows more time for youth to complete sex offender treatment. Additionally, deferred adjudications are eligible for expungement, despite a general state prohibition on expungement of records of sex offenses. The law also establishes a new “aggravated juvenile offender” provision, which allows consecutive sentencing in juvenile court of youth adjudicated for first and second degree murder. The law provides an alternative to prosecuting such youth in adult criminal court—youth who are classified as aggravated juvenile offenders remain in juvenile facilities until the age of 21. At age 20 ½, a hearing is held at which a judge decides how the sentence should be managed and whether the youth should be released or transferred to an adult facility, program, or parole. H.B. 1310/Act No. 268, signed into law June 7, 2012; effective June 12, 2012.
  • Kansas Raises the Legal Standard for Detention of Youth Charged with Felonies: Kansas now requires a finding of probable cause — rather than just an allegation — that a youth committed a felony offense in order for the youth to be placed in detention. Detention is also permitted for youth with a history of violence, if there is probable cause that a youth will fail to appear in court, for youth with a felony record, or for youth who violate probation. Ordinary evidentiary rules do not apply at detention hearings, but youth may present evidence that probable cause does not exist, and may request a rehearing within 14 days if the judge orders detention. S.B. 320/Act No. 2012-69, signed into law and effective April 6, 2012.
  • Louisiana Prohibits Life-Without-Parole Sentences for Non-Homicide Offenses: Louisiana passed legislation to end juvenile life without parole for non-homicide offenses. The bill follows the ruling in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), providing parole eligibility for youth sentenced to life imprisonment who have reached age forty-five, served twenty years of the imposed sentence, and have no serious disciplinary offenses. The parole board must consider a risk assessment, an evaluation by an expert in adolescent brain development, and any other relevant information. S.B. 317/Act No. 466, signed into law June 1, 2012; effective August 1, 2012.
  • North Carolina Eliminates Mandatory Life without Parole for Youth: Complying with Miller v. Alabama, North Carolina abolished mandatory life imprisonment without parole for youth convicted of first degree murder for offenses committed while under age 18. Judges now have the option of sentencing youth to life with parole after serving 25 years. At the sentencing hearing, courts must consider mitigating factors, and defense counsel may submit evidence related to the youth’s age, immaturity, mental health, intellectual capacity, ability to appreciate the risks and consequences of his or her behavior, amenability to rehabilitation, and the influence of familial or peer pressure. The issue of whether the new law is retroactive now sits before the North Carolina Supreme Court. S.B. 635/Act No. 2012-148, signed into law and effective July 12, 2012. 
  • North Carolina — Legislative Research Commission Recommends Raising the Age for Youth Charged with Misdemeanors: The North Carolina Legislative Research Commission’s Committee on Age of Juvenile Offenders issued a report in December 2012 recommending that the state raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 18 for youth who are charged with misdemeanors. The committee recommended passage of S.B. 434 from the 2011 session, which would raise the age for misdemeanors, but would keep in adult court 16- and 17-year olds previously convicted of felonies in adult court.
  • Ohio Allows Waiver of Driver’s License Suspension for Certain Youth: Ohio judges may now order the Registrar of Motor Vehicles to waive the suspension of the driver’s license or temporary driving permit of youth under 18 if it would seriously affect the youth’s ability to continue with his or her employment, educational training, vocational training, or treatment and if he or she successfully completes an advanced youth driver improvement program. S.B. 19/Act No. 137, signed into law June 26, 2012; effective September 28, 2012.
  • Pennsylvania Courts Must Justify Disposition Determinations, Including Reasons for Out-of-Home Placement of Youth: Prior to entering a disposition for a youth, Pennsylvania judges must now state the disposition and the reason for the disposition on the record in open court. Judges must explain the goals, terms, and conditions of the disposition, and, if a youth is sentenced to out-of-home placement, the judge must explain the specifics regarding the facility to which the youth is committed; what findings provide the basis for the commitment; and why such a placement was determined to be the “least restrictive placement that is consistent with the protection of the public and best suited to the child’s treatment, supervision, rehabilitation and welfare.” S.B. 818/Act No. 22, signed into law and effective April 3, 2012.
  • Pennsylvania Eliminates Mandatory Life-Without-Parole Sentences for Youth: Youth in Pennsylvania may no longer receive mandatory life-without-parole sentences for offenses committed when under age 18. The law—Pennsylvania’s move to come into compliance with Miller v. Alabama — provides alternative minimum sentences ranging from 20 years to life to 35 years to life, depending on the offense and the youth’s age. In determining whether to sentence a youth to life without parole, courts must consider age-related characteristics of the youth, including, age, maturity, mental capacity, and prior history. S.B. 850/Act No. 204, signed into law and effective October 25, 2012.


  • Maine — Courts Gain Option of Deferred Disposition: Courts in Maine may now impose a deferred disposition in juvenile cases where a youth admits to committing a delinquent act. If the youth complies with the conditions of the deferred disposition, the court may impose an alternative disposition or dismiss the petition with prejudice, upon motion by the state’s attorney. S.P. 402/L.D. 1299/Public Law 384, signed into law June 20, 2011.
  • Ohio — Legislature Passes Sentencing Reform Bill: Ohio’s new sentencing reform bill includes a range of positive changes for youth. It explicitly supports researchinformed, outcome-based programs and services; allows judges to consider early release opportunities throughout a youth’s commitment, including youth serving mandatory sentences; revises mandatory sentencing guidelines for youth to allow for judicial discretion in instances where the youth was not the main actor; adopts uniform competency standards for all delinquency proceedings; establishes a reverse waiver provision that makes it possible for young people automatically transferred to adult court to return to juvenile court at the discretion of the judge; and creates a temporary interagency task force to make recommendations to the legislature for addressing the needs of delinquent youth with significant mental health issues. H.B. 86, signed into law June 29, 2011; effective September 30, 2011.
  • Pennsylvania — Supreme Court Issues Rule Mandating Least Restrictive Disposition for Youth: When out-of-home placement is deemed to be necessary for a youth, courts in Pennsylvania must now explain why they are placing the youth outside of the home and why the placement is the least restrictive type of placement that is consistent with the protection of the public and the rehabilitation needs of the child. The rule reflects Pennsylvania law that requires the least restrictive placement of youth (42 Pa.C.S. § 6352), and further requires courts to explain in their dispositional orders why there are no less restrictive alternatives available. Rules 512, 1240, 1242, and 1512, adopted April 29, 2011; effective July 1, 2011.

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