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.