Maryland Juvenile Restoration Act (House Bill 409/Senate Bill 494)

House Bill 409 (“Juvenile Restoration Act”)

What it does

FOR the purpose of authorizing a court, when sentencing a minor convicted as an adult, to
5 impose a sentence less than the minimum term required by law; prohibiting a court
6 from imposing a sentence of life without the possibility of parole or release for a
7 minor; authorizing a certain individual to file a motion to reduce the duration of the
8 individual’s sentence; requiring the court to conduct a hearing on a motion to reduce
9 the duration of a sentence; requiring that an individual be present at a hearing on a
10 motion to reduce the duration of a sentence unless the individual waives the right to
11 be present; specifying that the requirement that an individual be present at a certain
12 hearing is satisfied if the hearing is conducted by video conference; authorizing a
13 court to reduce the duration of a sentence for a certain individual under certain
14 circumstances; requiring a court to consider certain factors when determining
15 whether to reduce the duration of a sentence for a certain individual; requiring a
16 court to issue a decision to grant or deny a motion to reduce the duration of a sentence
17 in writing; requiring a certain decision to address certain factors; providing that a
18 subsequent motion to reduce the duration of a sentence may be filed only after a
19 certain period of time; limiting the number of times that an individual may file a
20 motion to reduce the duration of a sentence; and generally relating to the sentencing
21 of minors.

Statements

NOVJM has released a statement on 409/494. It was published in an ABC 2 article.

The push to stop putting juveniles away for life

On Wednesday, January 20, the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers released a statement on the matter saying in part that they oppose “over-sentencing” juvenile offenders that are disproportionate to their crimes and recognize that life without parole may sometimes be a disproportionate sentence for juvenile offenders, however they also say some pose a long-term danger.

While many juvenile offenders have the potential for positive change, there are many who are psychopaths. Psychopaths will always pose a danger because there is no cure or treatment for psychopathy. In such cases, life without parole may be necessary to protect the public.

NOVJM believes that each juvenile offender should be sentenced based on their individual characteristics. Advocates of ending life sentences for juveniles argue that they are categorically less culpable due to the “hallmarks of youth”– impulsivity, susceptibility to peer pressure, etc. However, not all juveniles are the same. Many juvenile criminals do not display any of the “hallmarks of youth.” Rather than being impulsive, they extensively plan out their crimes. And rather than being under peer pressure, they commit their crimes alone. A great example of this is the Donald Torres case from Delaware. Torres broke into the Godt family’s home, spread kerosene around the home, and set it ablaze. He then watched the house burn down with the family inside. The mother, father, three-year-old son, and one-year-old daughter were all killed.

It is nonsensical to say that Torres should not get life without parole because most other juveniles are impulsive and susceptible to peer pressure, even though none of these traits applied to him. We believe that juvenile offenders should be sentenced based on the facts surrounding their specific crimes and not based on the general traits of others in their age group.

Finally, we ask that victims be considered. Murder victims do not get second chances. Many murder victims’ families feel that it is unfair for the killers to be released. They believe that the murderers should not be allowed to enjoy the very freedoms they robbed their loved ones of. To prevent the injustice of an early release, they will fight parole. For these victims, the parole process is incredibly difficult and painful. They suffer nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks. This trauma is intensified when parole hearings are more frequent.

Currently, the national debate regarding life sentences for juveniles is focused on the offenders. Victims are forgotten. We ask that Maryland lawmakers keep us in mind when making decisions that will significantly impact us.

NOVJM released another statement on the bill, which was published in a Fox 5 article.

Maryland General Assembly considers a bill to end life sentences for juveniles

However, many family members of victims feel the legislation takes away their loved one’s justice. In a statement the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers wrote, “In the national debate surrounding the sentencing of juvenile criminals, victims are forgotten. The focus is on the offenders even though they are the ones who chose to place themselves in the positions they are in by committing crimes. The victims did not choose their situations. They truly are the most vulnerable and voiceless people in the criminal justice system. “

NOVJM adds the argument of second chances for offenders is unfair, especially when victims of crimes like murder, don’t have a second chance. 

“Proponents of the Juvenile Restoration Act talk about “second chances” and hope and futures. But lost in all this mantra are the victims. Murder victims are denied hope and futures. They don’t get second chances. Many murder victims’ families feel it is unfair for the killers to be released and will try to prevent release by speaking up at hearings,” NOVJM added.

A hearing on the Juvenile Restoration Act is scheduled for Wednesday, February 17 in the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

What you can do

Contact the Maryland House Judiciary Committee and the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Propaganda

The Player’s Coalition released this pro-409 image. It depicts children’s far younger than the defendants whose sentences could be reduced by 409.

Image for post
It’s Time to End Life Without Parole Sentences for Juveniles in Maryland
Image

This is very inappropriate and hurtful to victims.

Dear Players Coalition,

We are the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM). We are an organization dedicated to supporting victims whose loved ones were murdered by juveniles. We understand that your organization supports Maryland House Bill 409, which prohibits juvenile criminals from being sentenced to life without parole. To promote HB 409, you released the image shown above. NOVJM is releasing this statement to bring to your attention the pain you are causing by using these kinds of images.

The image above depicts young elementary school-aged children and states “no child should be sentenced to die in prison.”

By using this image, you are saying that children this young are sentenced to spend their lives in prison without a chance for parole, or as you put it, to “to die in prison.” This is not factually accurate. Most offenders who receive life without parole sentences for crimes committed as juveniles were 16 or 17 when they committed those crimes. The very youngest “juvenile lifers” were 14 when they committed the crimes.

The Supreme Court has prohibited juveniles from receiving life without parole for non-homicide crimes. Because of this ruling, only juveniles convicted of murder can be sentenced to life without parole. 

The criminals who are supposed to be represented by this image, those sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles, are murderers and were mostly 16 or 17 when they committed those murders. 16 and 17-year-old murderers are not accurately represented by images of scared-looking elementary school-aged children. 

By using this picture, you are tricking people into believing that the 16 and 17-year-old murderers who received life sentences were just scared, elementary school aged-children. You are exploiting the natural urge we all have to protect actual children. This is ironic, given the fact that many victims of juvenile murderers were, in fact, young children. Shavanna McCann was a five-year-old child when she was raped and thrown out a 14th story window by a 17-year-old. The Godt children were one and three years old, when they, along with their parents, were burned alive by a 14-year-old. Antonio Angel Santiago was a one-year-old child when he was shot in the face and murdered by a 17-year-old. Jason Foreman was a five-year-old child when he was kidnapped, stabbed to death, and parts of his body eaten by a 16-year-old. 

This outrageous propaganda is deeply hurtful to victims. Seeing the murderers who annihilated our loved ones’ hopes and dreams being depicted as vulnerable young children causes intense trauma and anguish. And this is not the first time your organization has hurt victims through the use of propaganda.

While promoting Senate Bill 256 in Ohio, you used photographs of young children, no older than eight years old. Those pictures are shown below. Again, the criminals whose sentences were reduced by SB 256 were mostly 16 and 17 when they committed the crimes. They are not accurately portrayed by pictures of eight-year-old children. 

We are begging you to stop using these harmful images. They are inaccurate and propagandistic and are outright offensive to victims. While advocating for the freedom of those who brutally murdered our loved ones, you have disregarded and deeply wounded us. Please stop. 

Propaganda photograph used to promote SB 256 in Ohio
Propaganda photograph used to promote SB 256 in Ohio