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Is it time to revisit how the state treats juveniles given life sentences?

Without question, one of the more controversial issues in the area of criminal law is juvenile sentencing, particularly the appropriateness of sentencing people to life in prison for crimes committed while they were teens, a timeframe in which research has long shown that the human brain is still developing.   

The Supreme Court of the United States took a rather definitive stance on this issue via a series of rulings handed down in 2010 and 2012, effectively banning the states from giving juveniles life sentences without the possibility of parole. Indeed, in response to the rulings, as many as 24 states passed laws establishing mandatory review of juvenile life sentences after the passage of a set amount of years.

Here in Tennessee, little effort was undertaken in the wake of the SCOTUS decision, however, as state law already stated that juvenile life sentences are to be reviewed after the passage of 51 years.

Critics, however, have long argued that the requirement of 51 years passing is tantamount to a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Interestingly enough, two state lawmakers, Sen. Doug Overby (R-Maryville) and Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), have introduced a measure designed to change this outlook.

Under their legislation, those juveniles given life sentences for non-fatal crimes would be eligible for parole after serving 15 years, while those given life sentences for fatal crimes would be eligible for parole after 20 years.

In addition, the bill would require judges to consider specific factors when sentencing teen offenders, including their intellectual capabilities, ability to be rehabilitated and history of trauma.

It remains to be seen, however, just how responsive the General Assembly will be to this idea. It's worth noting that a similar bill that would've required any judge who gave a teen offender a life sentence to review their decision after 15 years failed to gain traction last year.

Stay tuned for updates …

Consider speaking with a skilled legal professional if your child has been charged with any manner of criminal offense as soon as possible, as their freedom and their future may be on the line.   

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Mr. McKellar was voted by his peers as a “Top Attorney” by Knoxville’s CityView Magazine in its 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 editions. In 2014, 2015, and 2016, Mr. McKellar was selected as a member of the “Top 100 Trial Lawyers” by the National Trial Lawyers.

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