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No death penalty or life sentences for SC juveniles under proposed laws

(Pixabay via MGN Online)

Bipartisan bills making their way through the South Carolina General Assembly would prevent life sentences and the death penalty as punishments for juveniles convicted of crimes.

The so-called Youth Sentencing Act of 2019 was introduced in the House Wednesday, February 6. It's co-sponsored by Rep. Neal Collins, a Republican from Pickens County, and Rep. Beth Bernstein, a Columbia Democrat. Both are attorneys serving on the House Judiciary Committee.

Nearly identical legislation was introduced in the Senate on Feb. 5 by Sens. Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington), Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) and Darrell Jackson (D-Richland).

The bills seek to "eliminate life without parole as a sentencing option for juveniles" in South Carolina's criminal justice system, replacing them with "age-appropriate sentencing and punishment standards [...] for juveniles who commit serious crimes."

Justification for the new law hinges on U.S. Supreme Court decisions in multiple cases, which have held factors of youth such as brain and behavioral development should protect juveniles from the most severe of punishments, even when those juveniles have committed horrible crimes.

The proposal would prevent courts from sentencing people under 18 to death or life imprisonment without parole. It would also nullify current life imprisonment and death sentences for offenders who were under 18 at the time of their crime.

Going forward, the bill calls for capping sentences for juveniles at 25 years in cases involving deaths, and capping sentences at 20 years in cases where no death occurred.

Convicts currently in prison for crimes they committed as juveniles would be automatically eligible for parole if they have served more than 20 or 25 years, depending on the type of crime.

The bill currently sits under review by the House Judiciary Committee. If it were passed, it would take effect immediately upon Governor McMaster's signature.

Read the full text of the proposed laws here:

HOUSE

SENATE

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