Friday, January 25, 2008

Rep. Levy, Sen. Shaffer Introduce Juvenile Justice Reform Bill

A bill that would impose tighter limits on the kinds of criminal cases that can result in juveniles being tried in an adult court was introduced in the House Friday.

HB 1208, which is sponsored by Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, and Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, makes some notable changes in the state's laws relating to juvenile criminal liability.

Under current law, a child that is age 14 or older can be directly charged with a crime in adult court. The bill would raise that threshold to age 16 and also provides that vehicular homicide and vehicular assault charges against children of any age could no longer be directly filed in adult criminal court.

The bill also creates a process under which a child that has been charged with a crime in adult court can ask the judge to send the case to juvenile court and gives judges in adult court greater latitude to send a convicted child to juvenile detention in certain cases.

The bill is co-sponsored by many House Democrats, including Majority Leader Alice Madden of Boulder and Judiciary Committee chair Terrence Carroll of Denver. In the Senate, cosponsors include Majority Leader Ken Gordon, D-Denver, President Pro-Tem Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, and Appropriations Committee chair John P. Morse, D-Colorado Springs.

Colorado law has provided that children age 14 or older can be charged and tried as adults in certain circumstances since 1973. In 1987 the General Assembly enacted a law that allowed children as young as 12 to be tried as adults.

The state has also recently taken a hard line on giving juveniles convicted as adults and sentenced to life in prison the opportunity for parole. In 1991 parole for life sentenced convicts was eliminated. In 2006 the General Assembly passed, and then-Gov. Bill Owens signed, a bill that reinstated parole for juveniles sentenced to life imprisonment after 40 years of confinement. It did not apply retroactively.

Recent studies show that teenagers are not as capable as adults of controlling their impulses due to the fact that their brains have not fully matured. This one is among the most notable.

In autumn 2006 the Denver Post ran a series of articles about teenagers serving life sentences in Colorado. The Rocky Mountain News ran a similar series in 2005.

The United States is one of only two nations that have declined to sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which bans the death penalty or a prison sentence of life without possibility of parole to persons convicted of a crime committed before the age of 18. The other non-signer is Somalia. 193 nations are parties to the Convention and an additional 140 are signatories obliged to follow its restraints on the treatment of juvenile offenders.