The state House of Representatives is considering a bill that would dramatically reduce sentences for some juveniles convicted of murder as the state moves to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, introduced an amendment to existing juvenile justice legislation on Monday that would give judges additional options when sentencing those convicted of first- or second-degree murder.
Currently, the mandatory sentence is life without parole for both convictions, regardless of the age of the offender. But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences were unconstitutional for juvenile offenders, calling the punishment "cruel and unusual." While it fell short of banning life without parole sentences for juveniles, it requires a sentencing court to consider a youth's age, level of maturity, culpability and background, among other things, in weighing a life sentence for a juvenile.
Mr. Marsico proposed that juveniles be treated differently depending on their age, offering sentencing schemes for juvenile defendants 15 and older and younger defendants. For first-degree murder, a judge would have the option of imposing a life without parole or a lesser sentence of 35 years to life for a defendant 15 and older and 25 to life for a defendant younger than 15.
For second-degree murder, judges could no longer impose a life without parole sentence. Instead, the proposed legislation outlines mandatory minimums of 30 years to life for older juvenile defendants and 20 years to life for younger ones.
The bill also outlines what a judge must consider before imposing a life without parole for a juvenile offender, including the age, mental capacity, maturity, past criminal history and "degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the defendant."
Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.