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Oklahoma introduces bill to end life sentences for minors

| Jan 28, 2020 | Criminal Defense

One of the quirks (or failings) of the American legal system is the fact that criminal defendants under 18 years of age — minors who can’t legally buy a pack of cigarettes or go into a bar — can still be sentenced to life in prison. Sometimes the law recognizes that a minor’s brain is not yet fully-developed — but often ignores that fact in criminal cases.

Lately, various states have started to focus harder on the problems with juvenile sentencing laws. They’re collectively asking, “Does this make sense?” At least one Oklahoma state senator doesn’t think so. Sen. George Young has introduced Senate Bill 1189 in an effort to bring the state’s laws more in line with the modern age.

If approved, the bill would end sentences of life without parole for any criminal defendant under the age of 18. In addition, the bill seeks to end mandatory minimum sentences of 20 years or more for juvenile offenders. Judges overseeing sentencing for a juvenile criminal defendant would also be required to consider a number of mitigating factors, including a juvenile’s capacity for rehabilitation, maturity, family environment and community.

In Sen. Young’s words, “Children do not have the brain development to fully understand the crimes they are committing and the consequences to their actions.” Lifetime incarceration, the senator believes, is not appropriate when there’s a possibility of rehabilitation.

Twenty-three other states have already banned life sentences for juveniles — but not everyone in Oklahoma thinks the new bill is a good idea. Prosecutors think that the proposed changes in the law go too far and don’t take into account “extreme circumstances of certain homicides,” and they sharply oppose the bill.

Prosecutors often take a hardened approach toward homicides and other violent crimes. They’re not particularly interested in mitigating factors or the potential for someone’s rehabilitation. That makes it important to have an experienced defense attorney by your side from the start.