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Hogan vetoes bill to ban juvenile life without parole

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday vetoed a measure that would prohibit juveniles convicted of rape or murder from being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Senate and House of Delegates are expected to vote in the coming days to try to override the Republican governor’s veto of legislation its Democratic supporters say gives young offenders a chance at supervised release after serving at least 20 years in prison. The Senate and House, both Democrat-dominated, passed the legislation with veto-proof majorities earlier this legislative session.

In his veto message, Hogan said he is a “firm believer in second chances” for juvenile offenders but that judges must have discretion to punish those “who have committed crimes so heinous that they are automatically charged as adults,” including first-degree murder and first degree rape.

“These are serious crimes that require the most serious of consequences, which is why a judge or jury sentences the individual to a lengthy determinate sentence, life imprisonment, or life imprisonment without parole,” Hogan wrote.

“Finally, this measure would contribute to the retraumatization of the victims of these heinous crimes,” Hogan added. “This legislation would force victims to come to court potentially several more times and subject themselves to living through the nightmare once again, in addition to any future parole hearings.”

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. “Will” Smith Jr., a sponsor of the bill, said Thursday night that he was “extremely disappointed” by the governor’s veto but that the Senate and House would override it before the General Assembly session ends at 12 a.m. Tuesday.

“We have the votes,” said Smith, D-Montgomery. “I look forward to overriding the veto.”

During Senate debate, Smith 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 said.

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 added. “No one who commits these heinous crimes will be released.”

Sen. Jill P. Carter, D-Baltimore and a co-sponsor, said that “we need to reimagine, redo the way we allow children to be sentenced.”

The Senate’s vote followed its rejection, on largely party-line votes, of 10 Republican amendments that would have preserved the possibility of life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles who are convicted of murdering multiple people, children or vulnerable adults, or who rape minors.

The General Assembly’s action 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, Senate Bill 494, would provide no such judicial discretion for a life without parole sentence – a distinction that drew criticism from Republican senators.

The possibility of parole for juvenile offenders should not apply to “the worst of the worst cases we have in Maryland,” Senate Republican Leader 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.”

Sen. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford, said life without parole should be an available sentence for juveniles convicted of “heinous, really evil crimes,” such as “gunning down innocent people in a fit of hate and rage.”

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