DENVER (AP) — Colorado’s GOP-led Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation Tuesday that would bring the state in line with U.S. Supreme Court rulings that mandatory life sentences without parole for youth offenders are unconstitutional.
Sponsors Sens. Laura Woods and Cheri Jahn accused Colorado’s district attorneys of bullying and fearmongering in their vocal opposition to the bill, which affects 48 inmates who are serving life without parole for first-degree murder and other crimes they committed as youths between 1990 and 2006.
Colorado ended the no-parole sentencing practice in 2006. The bill would help those 48 inmates seek — but not guarantee — new sentences and offers sentencing guidelines. It goes to the House after Tuesday’s 32-3 vote.
A companion bill would allow any youth offender who has served at least 20 years to apply for a prisons transition program that, if completed, could allow them to seek early parole. It passed 30-5.
Several district attorneys told lawmakers they should be ashamed for backing the bill, noted Jahn, a Wheat Ridge Democrat.
“Well, I’m not ashamed,” she said. “I am proud to stand here, I am proud, darn proud, to do what my heart tells me is the right, moral thing to do.”
“I, too, will not be bullied,” said Woods, an Arvada Republican.
The Colorado District Attorneys’ Council wanted legislation that would allow possible parole after a minimum 40 calendar years in prison — the standard adopted for other youth offenders in 2006.
It says judges may impose that sentence — but with credit for time served — or between 30 to 50 years with possible parole and credit for time served. Prosecutors object to the time-served provision and also tried to exclude first-degree murder convicts from any transition program.
Several prosecutors also said that the bill would allow Austin Sigg, sentenced to life plus 86 years in the grisly 2012 kidnap-slaying of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgway, to seek early release. But the judge in that case imposed enough consecutive sentences to keep Sigg in prison for good, bill supporters said.
At least 14 states, including neighboring South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, have eliminated life without parole for youth offenders since the Supreme Court in 2012 found it unconstitutional. In January, the court said its decision applied retroactively.
By James Anderson, AP Writer
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