By Daja Henry
House Bill 264, a bill authored by Republican representative Sherman Mack, was passed by the state Senate yesterday (Tuesday, May 31). The bill proposes that offenders serving a life sentence who were under the age of 18 at the time of their conviction of first or second degree murder become eligible for parole after serving at least 35 years of their sentence.
The bill has been sent back to the House for concurrence. The House version of the bill as proposed by Rep. Mack originally only gave the chance for parole to cases prior to 2012. But an amendment by Sen. Danny Martini, R-Metairie made it all-inclusive. Critics of the bill suggest that the 35 year period is too long. Democratic Sen. Jay Luneau proposed an amendment to make the period 25 years, but his amendment was rejected.
In addition to serving 35 years, offenders must have completed at least 100 hours of pre-release programming, obtained a high school diploma or GED, completed substance abuse treatment if necessary, and must not have committed any disciplinary offenses in the 12 months prior to their parole eligibility date.
Nationally, there has been a general trend of loosening laws on juvenile life without parole. Twenty-three states have recently revisited their laws on the matter. In fact, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a similar topic prompted this bill. In the January 2016 case of Miller v. Louisiana, the US Supreme Court held that “all juveniles (persons below 18) who were convicted of homicide (first or second degree murder), sentenced to a term of mandatory life without benefit of parole, and whose conviction became final prior to the Miller v. Alabama, 183 L.Ed. 2d 407 (2012), decision, should now receive a sentencing hearing to determine if they should receive parole eligibility.”
If the states keep following this trend, it is likely that life without parole sentences will follow the same fate as capital punishment of juveniles. Once state legislatures established a trend of abolishing capital punishment of juveniles, the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in accordance with its 1958 ruling in the case Trop v. Dulles. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the definition of the Eighth Amendment term “cruel and unusual punishment” should be pulled from the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” meaning that punishments could be declared cruel and unusual if a majority of the United States is moving toward that belief.