BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bill allowing juveniles convicted of murder to eventually apply for parole advanced through Senate committee Tuesday.
SB 127, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Martiny, R-Metairie, would bring Louisiana into compliance with a series of ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The Supreme Court has dictated to us that we have to do something," he told the committee.
In 2012, in the case of Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life without parole for teenage offenders was unconstitutional because it is "cruel and unusual." Then, earlier this year in the case of Montgomery v. Louisiana, the highest court in the land ruled that the ruling from the Miller case should be applied retroactively to all those already in prison and convicted as juveniles.
In Louisiana, that would impact about 300 people.
Martiny's bill applies specifically to those who were under 18 when they committed the crime and were convicted of first or second-degree murder before June 2012. It would allow those offenders to apply for parole after 35 years, provided they also meet a variety of other requirements, including getting the equivalent of a high school diploma. The parole board would then get to decide if they can be released.
At the hearing, family members of victims pleaded that the time requirement be increased. That included Andrea Pickett, who told the story of her aunt and cousin's deaths. Phyllis and Justin Albritton were killed in the early 1990s at the hands of a 15-year-old. Justin was 11 years old.
"Tonight I get to watch my little boy play baseball, something my uncle had to miss out on," Pickett testified. "This man should never be allowed to do that to another child or another family."
Still others argued that the wait period should actually be shorter – even closer to 10 or 15 years.
"Give them hope, give them something to strive for. Allow them opportunities to pursue education and be a good community member where they are," said Bruce Reilly, the deputy director of the Voice of the Ex-Offender, an advocacy group based in New Orleans.
Not all members of the committee agreed.
"I want them punished for what they did. The 'hope' thing is not really something I'm concerned about whenever they're convicted of a first-degree murder," said Sen. Jonathan Reilly, R-Kaplan.
The bill now heads to the Senate floor, where lawmakers will in all likelihood continue to debate if 35 years is the appropriate length of time.