The Colorado Supreme Court hearings have come and gone. The advocates, the news reporters and the editors have all spoken and the facts have been laid before the judges.....and we wait for the decision. The cases presented before the court were distinct and helped to cover the gamut of the issue facing Colorado.
Each one challenged the legality of juvenile life sentences, two cases have life without the possibility of parole and one case was sentenced under the 2006 Colorado law that mandates 40 years to life. It was important that this sentence be presented before the Supreme Court because it has a lengthy mandatory minimum that does not allow for mitigating circumstances, rehabilitation or judicial discretion. Many states have already jumped this hurdle and found that a lengthy mandatory minimum does not hold up under the constitutional rulings of Miller and Graham. Interestingly enough retroactivity was not even challenged.
The biggest question that was raised in these hearings was why the Colorado legislators had not addressed the sentencing law that governed these juvenile cases. The responsibility of the Supreme Court is to research and rule on the constitutionality of the laws that are in place. They cannot decide the appropriate length of a sentence, that is the responsibility of the public and the lawmakers that represent them.
This brings me to the final point. In the Supreme Court hearings, in newspaper articles, in recent case rulings, families of the victims have voiced their advocacy for greatly reduced sentences and opportunities for rehabilitation and freedom. The public at large has spoken out against mandatory sentences and harsh juvenile sentencing practices. The only ones that do not seem to be in agreement with the victims, the advocates, the public and the justices are the lawmakers themselves. We must remember that theirs is a political office with different motivation. How unfortunate for justice that those who introduce and vote on laws are not motivated to do right for rights sake....for the sake of justice, compassion and the health of the communities they live in.
Do they have the courage to do the right thing? That remains to be seen.
Here are links to articles covering the Supreme Court Rulings and also a recent case that brought freedom to a young man sentenced to life.
Will juvenile lifers get a reprieve? From Westword
Colorado Supreme Court Hears Arguments For Juvenile Sentences From The Denver Post
Man convicted as juvenile in Emily Johnson murder released from prison From The Denver Post
Tomorrow three important juvenile justice cases will be heard in the Colorado Supreme Court. It has taken this long for these first cases, which challenge juvenile life without parole sentences based on the national Graham and Miller rulings, to make their way through the appellate process. Amazing and frustrating.
We are hopeful that these hearings will result in favorable rulings that will set the tone for future appeals but even more, will cause the government of Colorado to change the laws that allow a juvenile to receive these sentences in the first place. So we hold our breath......and wait.
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