House Minority Leader says judges and juries should decide parole question for juveniles

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — House Minority Leader Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha, 40) said lawmakers should revisit the law that gives juvenile criminals who are convicted of violent crimes a chance at parole in 15 years — no matter the circumstances of their cases.

“Looking back at this, I’m not even sure that we needed to do anything,” Armstead said of the new law. “I think our (previously existing) law, in my opinion, was probably compliant with that Supreme Court case anyway.”

That Supreme Court case Armstead is referring to is Miller v. Alabama which involved a teenager who was sentenced to life in prison, at age 14, for murder and arson without parole.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court found such mandatory life sentences, with no chances of getting out, are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders based on the Eighth Amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments.

In response to that ruling, the West Virginia Legislature approved a law change this year that requires all juvenile offenders to have opportunities for parole, regardless of how heinous their crimes were. That law is being applied retroactively, meaning criminals convicted when they were under the age of 18 are being scheduled for parole hearings, even though their sentences did not allow for as much.

Armstead said, in West Virginia, there are no mandatory life sentences for juveniles. Judges and juries decide on parole. “The jury is the one who has all the facts in front of them. They’re the ones who know what mitigating circumstances there were,” he said on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

Lawmakers may look again at the law during the 2015 Regular Legislative Session.  It begins in January.

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