South Carolina HB 3919

House Bill 3919 would retroactively end life without parole (LWOP) for criminals under 18. Juveniles who commit or have committed non-homicide crimes would be eligible for parole after 20 years. Juveniles who commit or have committed homicides would be eligible for parole after 25 years. NOVJM opposes HB 3919 because it would force victims to endure painful parole hearings and put society at risk.

Text

“Section 17-25-35.    (A)    Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a court may not sentence a person to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole if the person was less than eighteen years of age at the time of committing the offense. This subsection applies retroactively to a person whose offense was committed before the person was eighteen years of age, regardless of the original sentences that were imposed.

Section 17-25-40.    (A)    A person who was convicted and sentenced for an offense committed before the person was eighteen years of age and in which the death of another person did not occur, and that was committed before, on, or after the effective date of this act is eligible for release on parole no later than after twenty years of incarceration, including any applicable sentencing enhancements, and including an instance in which multiple sentences are to be served consecutively or concurrently, unless by law the person is eligible for earlier parole.

(B)    A person who was convicted and sentenced for an offense committed before the person was eighteen years of age, in which the death of another person occurred, and that was committed before, on, or after the effective date of this act is eligible for release on parole no later than after twenty-five years of incarceration, including any applicable sentencing enhancements, unless by law the person is eligible for earlier parole.

Status

In the House Judiciary Committee.

What you can do

Write to members of the House Judiciary Committee.

NOVJM position

NOVJM opposes HB 3919 for the reasons explained below. To summarize, making all juvenile offenders eligible for parole regardless of the severity of their crimes is not a good idea. It would put public safety at risk by allowing dangerous criminals to manipulate their way out of prison. And it would force victims to endure traumatizing parole hearings.

Letter to the House Judiciary Committee

Letter to S.C. lawmakers

I am writing on behalf of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM). NOVJM is dedicated to helping those whose family members were murdered by juveniles under 18. We represent hundreds of victims’ families around the country who have lost loved ones to juvenile murderers. NOVJM does not take positions on how specific offenders should be sentenced. We support the victims’ families voices. But we do believe that justice is best served by giving courts the most sentencing options possible to deal with the wide range of offenders and crimes that they face, up to and including life sentences. A wider range of sentencing options prioritizes public safety against offenders who may always remain dangerous, as psychologically we do see sometimes. 

And the availability of longer sentences, where appropriate, allows victims’ families to experience some sense of justice and a sense of legal finality, especially when the sentencing options keep frequent re-traumatizing parole hearings to an absolute minimum. Victims’ families suffer staggering life and health problems when having to re-engage with those who murdered their loved ones.

NOVJM opposes HB 3919 because it would unnecessarily re-traumatize victims. Victims would be forced to endure agonizing parole hearings. Furthermore, because of the bill’s retroactivity, many victims were never planning on or building these parole hearings into their lives, increasing the traumatic impact. Victims often walk away from long term and life sentences given to their loved ones’ murderers believing that their ordeals with the criminal justice system are largely over. They do not make the preparations necessary for parole hearings. They often don’t even register for victim notification, and then become lost to the record keeping of the court. We believe that retroactively reducing criminal sentences raises serious legal issues with regards to Victims’ Rights.

Additionally, there is the issue of fairness. There are some crimes committed by juveniles that may warrant long term or life sentences due to the extreme depravity and cruelty involved. Examples of such crimes are listed on our website. 

And finally, there is the issue of safety. Unfortunately, there are some people who, for whatever reason, will always pose a risk to society. Some are diagnosed psychopaths or sociopaths. Psychopathy and sociopathy are incurable conditions characterized by a lack of remorse or empathy. Some of these offenders have been sentenced for crimes they committed when they were under 18. In many cases, offenders have been released early only to commit more crimes. Some of these cases are documented on our website as well. http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/myths-about-the-juvenile-life-sentence/dangerous-early-release/   

Thank you for considering NOVJM’s opposition to HB 3919. We respectfully ask that it not be made law. We have never ceased to be horrified by the amount of money and the huge advocacy effort that is being put into changing teen killers’ sentences with NO effort to talk about or plan for how murder victims’ families, who have already had to endure the worst experience of anyone’s lifetime, will cope. We are shocked by the fact that advocates of juvenile murderers leave us out in regards to legislation that will profoundly affect our well-being and lives for decades to come. We stand ready to offer victim family testimony, research from the scientific community, and strategies that have worked well to balance the concerns of criminal justice reform with those of public safety and victim re-traumatization. We deeply appreciate your consideration of the needs of the victims’ families in at least EQUAL force that you consider the requirements of justice for those who killed our loved ones.

Learn about more current legislation here.