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Md. Senate approves ban on juvenile life without parole

Parole candidates would have to show their release would be “in the interest of justice” and that they do not pose “a threat to public safety,” says Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair William "Will" Smith. “No one who commits these heinous crimes will be released.” (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Parole candidates would have to show their release would be “in the interest of justice” and that they do not pose “a threat to public safety,” says Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair William “Will” Smith. “No one who commits these heinous crimes will be released.” (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

The Maryland Senate passed legislation Thursday night that would prohibit juveniles convicted of rape and murder from being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Senate Bill 494 would permit juveniles given lifetime sentences to become eligible for parole after serving 20 years.

With the Democratic-led Senate’s 32-15 vote, largely along party lines, attention shifts to the House of Delegates, which will consider the legislation in the coming weeks.

During Senate floor debate, Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. “Will” Smith Jr., a sponsor of the bill, said the legislation gives juvenile offenders “an option for a second shot” and does not guarantee that young killers and rapists will be released from prison.

“The fundamental question about this bill is do you believe in the redemptive quality of the human condition,” Smith, D-Montgomery, said during floor debate earlier in the week. Parole candidates would have to show their release would be “in the interest of justice” and that they do not pose “a threat to public safety,” Smith said. “No one who commits these heinous crimes will be released.”

But Sen. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford, said some crimes are so heinous that life in prison without the possibility of parole is appropriate even when the criminal was a youngster.

“We talk on this floor a lot about redemption and that’s appropriate because throwing a life away is a terrible thing to do and we really ought to be very cautious in doing it, particularly young lives,” Cassilly told his colleagues Thursday.

“(But) sometimes people are capable of just such despicable evil, horrendous acts that impact so many lives, so many lives that can never be recovered, the families, the survivors,” Cassilly said. “Our courts need to have the discretion, the ability to say ‘you have reached a level of inhumanity that just can’t be tolerated.’”

As of Dec. 31, 47 convicts in Maryland were serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes committed while juveniles, Smith said, citing Maryland Division of Correction data.

The Senate’s vote followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders violates the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment because of their lack of maturity. The high court’s decision allows for judges to exercise their discretion to render life sentences without parole for the most heinous crimes and the most incorrigible offenders.

The legislation would provide no such judicial discretion for a life without parole sentence – a distinction that drew criticism from the Senate’s Republican leader.

The possibility of parole for juvenile offenders should not apply to “the worst of the worst cases we have in Maryland,” Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire said during floor debate.

“We hear of restoration and redemption” for juvenile killers, said Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel. “But let me remind you there is no redemption for the victims or these families. Their loved ones are gone forever. They don’t get to come back after 10 or 20 years.”


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