Legislation Eliminating Life-Without-Parole Sentences for Juveniles
Following the Supreme Court’s decisions in Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana, many states have enacted legislation eliminating life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. Other states have provided mechanisms for juveniles serving life-without-parole sentences to petition courts for resentencing. We also describe several state supreme court decisions that prohibit life-without-parole sentences for all juveniles. Click on the state names below to learn more about these statutes.
Ark. S.B. 294, 91st Gen. Assemb. (Reg. Sess. 2017) (amending Ark. Code §§ 5-4-104(b), 5-4-602(3), 5-10-101(c), 5-10-102(c), 16-93-612(e), 16-93-613, 16-93-614, 16-93-618, and enacting new sections).
Arkansas passed a statute in 2017 eliminating life without parole for juveniles. The statute provides that juveniles convicted of capital murder are subject to a sentence of life with eligibility for parole after 30 years. Juveniles convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life are eligible for parole no later than after serving 25 years. An individual convicted of a crime committed under the age of 18 in which the death of another person did not occur is eligible for parole no later than after 20 years’ incarceration (unless by law the juvenile is eligible for parole earlier). The parole provisions of the statute apply retroactively to offenses committed before, on, or after the effective date of the act. The statute requires that juveniles convicted of capital murder or murder in the first degree receive a comprehensive mental health evaluation prior to sentencing. However, the evaluation is not admissible into evidence at trial or sentencing if the juvenile objects. The statute directs the parole board to ensure that parole eligibility hearings take into account how a minor offender is different from an adult offender and provide a meaningful opportunity to be released on parole based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. The prisoner may have an attorney present to represent him or her at the parole eligibility hearing. Victims shall be notified of the hearing. At the hearing, the board shall consider a set of youth-related factors.
S.B. 394 (Cal. 2017) (amending Cal. Penal Code § 3051).
A.B. 1308 (Cal. 2017) (amending Cal. Penal Code § 3051).
California passed a statute in 2017 that retroactively eliminates life-without-parole sentences for children. The new statute provides that a person sentenced to life without parole for an offense committed before age 18 is eligible for parole at a youth offender parole hearing during his or her 25th year of incarceration.
California also passed a separate statute in 2017 that extends youth offender parole eligibility to individuals who committed offenses before age 25. This statute amended an earlier statute providing new parole eligibility rules for individuals who committed crimes under age 23 and directing the parole board to use special criteria and procedures in these cases. Now, youth offenders are eligible for parole in California as follows, subject to certain exceptions: (1) those convicted of controlling offenses committed at age 25 or younger and sentenced to a determinate sentence are eligible after 15 years; (2) those convicted of controlling offenses committed at age 25 or younger and sentenced to less than 25 years to life are eligible after 20 years; (3) those convicted of controlling offenses committed at age 25 or younger and sentenced to 25 years to life will be eligible after 25 years. Individuals sentenced to life without parole for controlling offenses committed under age 18 are eligible after 25 years. Significantly, the parole board must refer solely to a “controlling offense” when determining eligibility—meaning the longest-term offense. Thus, the statute effectively eliminates consecutive sentences for eligible juveniles with respect to calculating parole eligibility. In addition, among other requirements, the statute instructs 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 of the prisoner in accordance with relevant case law” in reviewing a prisoner’s suitability for parole. Under the statute, the board must meet with the inmate six years prior to his or her parole eligibility date and provide the inmate with “information about the parole hearing process, legal factors relevant to his or her suitability or unsuitability for parole, and individualized recommendations for the inmate regarding his or her work assignments, rehabilitative programs, and institutional behavior.”
Colorado passed legislation in 2016 that retroactively eliminates life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. In 2006, Colorado had prospectively eliminated such sentences. The 2016 statute provides that juveniles convicted of class 1 felonies shall be sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after serving 40 years, less any earned time. The earned time may not be greater than 25% of the sentence. The statute also provides for the resentencing of juveniles previously sentenced to life without parole. Those convicted of first degree murder, other than felony murder, shall be sentenced to life with parole after 40 years, less any earned time. Those convicted of first degree murder under the felony murder doctrine may be sentenced to either (1) life with parole after 40 years, less any earned time or (2) a determinate sentence within the range of 30 to 50 years, less earned time. The determinate sentence may be imposed only if the court finds “extraordinary mitigating circumstances” after considering certain factors and making “factual findings to support its decision.” Under the statute, juvenile offenders have the right to counsel at these resentencing hearings and victims have the right to be heard.
A separate bill enacted in Colorado in 2016 provides a specialized program within the Department of Correction for juveniles convicted of felonies as adults and sentenced to long prison terms. Depending on the severity of the offense, prisoners can petition for the program after serving 20 or 25 years. A prisoner who successfully completes the program (which must last at least three years), is eligible to apply for early parole and is presumed to meet the criteria for release if he or she has served at least 25 or 30 years, depending on the offense. The governor must approve early parole.
S.B. 16-181, 70th Gen. Assemb., 2d Reg. Sess. (Colo. 2016) (amending Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-1.3-401(4)(b)(I); 17-22.5-104(2)(c)(I), ‑(2)(d)(IV); 17-22.5-405(4); 24-4.1-302(2)(h); 24-4.1-302.5(1)(d)(IV); 24-4.1-303(12)(c) and enacting §§ 18-1.3-401(4)(c); 17-22.5-104(2)(d)(V); 17-22.5-403(2)(c); 17-22.5-405(1.2); 16-13-1001, -1002).
S.B. 16-180,70th Gen. Assemb., 2d Reg. Sess. (Colo. 2016) (amending Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 17-22.5-403.7(2), 24-4.1-302.5(1)(j) and enacting §§ 17-34-101, -102; 17-22.5-403(4.5); 17-22.5-403.7(6)).
Connecticut passed legislation in 2015 that retroactively eliminates life-without parole sentences for juveniles.
S.B. 796, Jan. Sess. (Conn. 2015) (amending Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 54-125a, 46b-127, 46b-133c, 46b-133d, 53a-46a, 53a-54b, 53a-54d, 53a-54a and enacting new sections).
New Parole Rules for Juveniles: The statute applies to juvenile offenders currently serving sentences of more than 10 years, and provides that juveniles are eligible for parole after serving 60% of the sentence, or 12 years, whichever is greater. Those serving more than 50 years are eligible for parole after 30 years. The parole board must apply special criteria in considering juvenile cases. A year before the parole hearing, counsel will be appointed for indigent prisoners to help them prepare for the hearing.
New Rules for Sentencing Juveniles in Adult Court: When sentencing juveniles transferred to adult court and convicted of serious felonies, courts must consider “the defendant’s age at the time of the offense, the hallmark features of adolescence, and any scientific and psychological evidence showing the differences between a child’s brain development and an adult’s brain development.” The probation office “shall compile reference materials relating to adolescent psychological and brain development to assist courts in sentencing children” and must include information relating to youth-related factors in the presentence report. Under the statute, juveniles may no longer be convicted of the most serious offenses in Connecticut, which carry mandatory life-without-parole sentences. Instead, the most serious offense for juveniles now is murder, which carries now for juveniles a minimum sentence of 25 years (with parole eligibility after 15 years) and a maximum sentence of 60 years (with parole eligibility after 30 years).
S.B. 9, 147th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Del. 2013) (amending Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, §§ 636(b), 4209, 4209A, 4204A).
Delaware passed legislation in 2013 eliminating sentences of life without the possibility of release for juveniles. Under the legislation, individuals serving mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of release for crimes committed as juveniles will be resentenced and subject to a sentencing range of twenty-five years to life. In addition, the law allows juveniles sentenced to more than 20 years to petition the court for sentence modification. Modification requests may be filed after 30 years in first-degree murder cases and after 20 years for all other cases. Inmates may receive subsequent reviews every five years, with discretion for the court to lengthen the time between petitions. The statute applies retroactively to prisoners serving sentences at the time of passage.
B21-0683, D.C. Act 21-568 (amending, in relevant part, D. C. Code §§ 24-403 et seq.).
The District of Columbia eliminated life-without-parole sentences for juveniles with legislation that took effect in 2017. The legislation provides that no person shall be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or release for an offense committed while under 18 years of age, and that such offenders may receive a sentence less than the minimum term otherwise required by law. Moreover, the court may reduce a term of imprisonment imposed upon a defendant for an offense committed before age 18 if, among other considerations, the defendant received a sentence of at least 20 years in prison, is found not to be a danger to the safety of any person or the community, and the interests of justice warrant a sentence modification. The court shall hold a hearing on a defendant’s motion for sentence modification under the act, and the defendant and defendant’s counsel must be given an opportunity to speak on the defendant’s behalf. In determining whether to modify the sentence, the court must consider, inter alia, “[w]hether the defendant has demonstrated maturity, rehabilitation, and a fitness to reenter society sufficient to justify a sentence reduction.”
H.B. 2116, 27th Leg. Sess. (Haw. 2014) (amending Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 706-656(1), -657).
Hawaii eliminated life-without-parole sentences for juveniles with legislation enacted in 2014. The statute provides that individuals under 18 convicted of first-degree murder or first-degree attempted murder shall be sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. Following sentencing, the parole board puts in place a rehabilitation plan and sets the parole eligibility date after an initial hearing with the prisoner. Previously, life without parole was mandatory for juveniles convicted of these offenses. Under existing Hawaii law, once individuals become eligible for parole, they are entitled to review every 12 months.
Iowa eliminated life without parole for juveniles through a 2016 court decision, State v. Sweet. In 2015, following Miller, Iowa had enacted legislation that eliminated mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles but gave judges the discretion to still impose these sentences.
H. 4307, 188th Gen. Court (Mass. 2014) (amending Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 27, § 4; ch. 119, § 72B; ch. 127 §§ 133A, 133C; ch. 265, § 2; ch. 279, § 24 and enacting new sections).
Massachusetts initially eliminated life without parole for juveniles through a court decision. In December 2013, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that life without parole for juveniles violates the state constitution. Under the decision, juvenile offenders convicted of first-degree murder and previously sentenced to mandatory life without parole are eligible for a parole hearing after serving 15 years.
In 2014, Massachusetts passed legislation addressing the issue. Under the law, individuals ages 14-17 convicted of first-degree murder shall be sentenced to life with parole eligibility set by the court at not less than 20 years and not more than 30 years. However, if the first-degree murder is committed by the juvenile “with extreme atrocity or cruelty” the parole eligibility date shall be fixed at 30 years. If the crime is committed with “deliberately premeditated malice aforethought,” parole eligibility shall be set at not less than 25 years and not more than 30 years. These parole eligibility rules apply only to crimes committed after the effective date of the act. The act also creates a commission “to study and determine the usefulness and practicality of creating a developmental evaluation process for all cases of first degree murder committed by a juvenile.” This evaluation process “shall determine the developmental progress and abilities of the juvenile offender at the time of sentencing and parole eligibility and the parole board shall utilize the evaluation process for future parole decisions regarding the juvenile offender.”
A.B. 267, 78th Reg. Sess. (Nev. 2015) (amending Nev. Rev. Stat. §§ 176.025, 213.107 and enacting new sections in chs. 213 & 176.
Nevada passed legislation in 2015 eliminating life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. The act provides that going forward, juveniles may not be sentenced to life without parole: the maximum sentence available for juveniles is life with the possibility of parole. The act also provides retroactive parole eligibility rules for all juveniles, except those convicted of offense/s that resulted in the death of two or more victims. Juveniles convicted of nonhomicide offenses will be eligible for parole after serving 15 years, and those convicted of homicide offenses involving 1 victim will be eligible for parole after serving 20 years. The legislation requires courts when sentencing juveniles to “consider the differences between juvenile and adult offenders, including, without limitation, the diminished culpability of juveniles as compared to that of adults and the typical characteristics of youth.”
A. 373, 217th Leg. Assemb. (N.J. 2017) (amending N.J.S. 2C:11-3).
New Jersey eliminated life without parole for juveniles with legislation passed in 2017. The statute eliminates life-without-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of murder and provides that the sentence must be either: (1) a term of 30 years, during which the juvenile is not eligible for parole; or (2) a specific term of years that shall be between 30 years and life imprisonment, of which the juvenile shall serve 30 years before being eligible for parole.
N.D. H.B. 1195, 65th Leg. Assemb. (N.D. 2017) (amending N.D. Cent. Code § 12.1-20-03 and enacting a new section in ch. 12.1-32).
North Dakota eliminated life without parole for juveniles in 2017. Under the legislation, defendants convicted as adults for offenses that occurred before the defendant was eighteen may petition for a sentence reduction after serving at least 20 years. To grant the reduction, the court must determine that the defendant is not a danger to the safety of others and that the interests of justice warrant a sentence modification. In addition, the statute directs the court to consider, inter alia: the nature of the offense and the defendant’s role in the offense; reports and recommendations from the department of corrections and rehabilitation and the state’s attorney; victim statements; the report of a licensed health care professional; defendant’s compliance with institutional rules while incarcerated and any educational, vocation, or other prison programming; and “whether the defendant has demonstrated maturity, rehabilitation, and a fitness to re-enter society sufficient to justify a sentence reduction.” Anyone granted a sentence reduction must serve at least five years on supervised release; anyone denied may file a second motion no earlier than five years later, and a third and final motion no earlier than five years after denial of the second motion.
S.B. 140, 2016 S.D. Sess. Laws (S.D. 2016) (amending S.D. Codified Laws § 22-6-1 and enacting a new section).
South Dakota eliminated life without parole for juveniles in 2016. The new statute provides that “[t]he penalty of life imprisonment may not be imposed upon any defendant for any offense committed when the defendant was less than eighteen years of age.” In South Dakota, those sentenced to “life imprisonment” are ineligible for parole. The statute provides that “[i]f the defendant is under the age of eighteen years at the time of the offense and found guilty of a Class A, B, or C felony, the maximum sentence may be a term of years in the state penitentiary.”
S.B. 2, 83rd Leg. Special Sess. (Texas 2013) (enacting Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 12.31, Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 37.071)
S.B. 839, 81st Leg. Sess. (Texas 2009) (enacting Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 508.145(b)).
Texas, in 2013, eliminated life without parole for 17-year-olds convicted of capital felony. In 2009, Texas had eliminated life without parole as a sentencing option for individuals convicted of capital felony committed at age 16 and younger. Under these statutes, individuals convicted of capital felony committed under age 18 are subject to life sentences with the possibility of parole after 40 years rather than life without parole.
H.B. 405 (Utah 2016) (amending Laws of Utah §§ 76-3-203.6, -206, -207, -207.5, -207-.7 and enacting § 76-3-209).
Utah passed a legislation eliminating life without parole for juveniles in 2016. The Utah statute prohibits sentencing an individual to life without parole if the crime was committed under the age of 18. Under the statute, the maximum sentence that may be imposed on a juvenile offender is “an indeterminate prison term of not less than 25 years and that may be for life.”
H. 62, 73rd Sess. (2015) (enacting Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 13, § 7045)
Vermont passed a bill in 2015 that eliminates sentences of life in prison without parole for offenders who were under age 18 at the time of the commission of the offense.
H.B. 4210, 81 Leg., 2d Sess. (W.Va. 2014) (enacting W. Va. Code §§ 61-11-23, 62-12-13b).
West Virginia passed a statute in 2014 eliminating life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. The bill provides that juvenile offenders must be eligible for parole after serving no more than 15 years. The parole board must ensure a “meaningful opportunity” for the juvenile offender to obtain release and consider, inter alia, the “diminished culpability of juveniles as compared to that of adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity of the prisoner during incarceration.” If the board denies parole, it must reconsider release at least once every three years for those inmates serving life sentences and on an annual basis for those serving less than life. In addition, the statute provides that courts must consider youth-related mitigating factors and the results of a comprehensive mental health evaluation before sentencing a juvenile convicted of a felony after transfer to adult court. The state parole board, relying advice from the state attorney general’s office, concluded that the statute applies retroactively to allow parole for juvenile offenders previously sentenced to life without parole.
H.B. 23, 62nd Leg., Gen. Sess. (Wyo. 2013) (amending Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-2-101(b), 6-2-306(d), (e), 6-10-201(b)(ii), 6-10-301(c), 7-13-402(a)).
Wyoming passed a statute in 2013 that eliminates life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. Under the statute, the penalty for first-degree murder for juveniles is life with parole after serving 25 years. The Wyoming Supreme Court held that the statute applies retroactively.