This week the House Civil and Criminal Proceedings Committee heard HB 1995, sponsored by Rep. Robert Cornejo (R-St. Peters). This bill specifies that an individual found guilty of murder in the first degree who was under the age of 18 may only be sentenced to 25 to 40 years or life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. This bill addresses the void in Missouri law due to the Miller v Alabama ruling (see above story) that banned mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles.
One witness in support of the bill was Billy Harris, who stressed that juveniles have great potential to change. Harris, who was convicted of murder when just a teenager, indicated that he used his incarceration to get his GED and better himself. Once released he went to college, received a degree, now works for a non-profit organization and has been a law abiding citizen for over 15 years.
The MCC testified in support of the bill, noting that the bill gives juveniles who could prove their rehabilitation a second chance at life. Church teachings stress that it is a failure of society to treat young people as though they were fully formed adults. Pope Francis himself has expressed concern about youth being sentenced to a lifetime behind bars and has encouraged sentences that allow for meaningful reform and hope for young offenders.
The committee took no action on the bill.