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Juvenile parole bill killed in Colorado House

This week in Denver, members of the Colorado House of Representatives considered a bill that would allow juveniles convicted of serious crimes to be eligible for parole after serving 40 years in prison. After hearing testimony from people both supporting and opposing the bill, the House Judiciary Committee killed the bill.

The bill would have specifically affected 48 people in Colorado who were convicted as juveniles and sentenced for more than 40 years or life between 1991 and 2006. During this time, a law existed that created life sentences without parole for juveniles. The law was repealed in 2006.

Ultimately, HB1287 would make those 48 people eligible for parole after serving 40 calendar years of their sentences.

The bill was sponsored by a representative from each party, but lost on a 6-5 vote when a Democrat, Rep. Crisanta Duran of Denver, joined the Republican representatives in voting against it.

Her decision was made by questions raised by the attorney general's office as to the bill's constitutionality, Rep. Duran said. However, she stated that she was not "going to give up on those 48 offenders," and said that more work needed to be done to support the bill.

Rep. Duran also said that a decision by the Colorado State Supreme Court stating that the legislature has the authority to alter sentences retroactively would encourage her support of the bill.

The Colorado Deputy Attorney General told the committee that there is not a clear answer to that issue at this point, and challenges from victims' advocates, victims' families or district attorneys would likely occur if the bill was made law.

The bill's co-sponsors presented evidence that teenagers' brains cannot stop impulsive behavior the same way adults' brains can, so sentences meant for adults should not be applied to teenagers. The co-sponsors also argued that these 48 people should not face stricter sentences.

In addition, many family members of convicted juveniles and homicide victims gave emotional testimony before the committee, sometimes even representing both sides of the same crime.

Source: The Pueblo Cheiftain, "Juvenile parole bill dies," Crisanta Duran, 3/30/2011.

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