May 23, 2017 12:27 AM

Habitual offender reform clears committee. Full House to consider juvenile life bill later today.

With the executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys' Association sitting beside the bill's author, the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice unanimously approved Sen. Dan Claitor's bill that will reform the state's habitual offender law.
Sen. Dan Claitor
Photo by Robin May

SB146 is part of the Justice Reinvestment Task Force's legislative package that aims to reduce the state's prison population through a combination of penalty, sentencing and parole reforms that would make it easier for non-violent offenders to spend less time in jail. Claitor, a former prosecutor, was a member of the task force created in 2016.

The bill was amended by the committee to toughen some of the provisions on four-time offenders, but generally the bill still reduces sentences applied under the provisions of the state Habitual Offender Law and allows for less time to elapse before some offenses can be removed from the determination of multiple offender status.

Pete Adams of the LDAA and Claitor supported the committee's amendments, some of which were merely technical. The bill now advances to the floor of the House for consideration, likely after Memorial Day due to House procedure requirements.
Pete Adams
Photo by Robin May
When the House convenes in full session at 2 p.m. the effect of the compromise announced last week between the LDAA and Justice Reinvestment advocates (including Gov. John Bel Edwards) will get its first test on that side of the Capitol.

Claitor's SB16, which would provide a Supreme Court of the United States-mandated path for possible parole for juveniles who were convicted of crimes carrying life sentences without the possibility of parole, will be subject to debate and vote.

In a 2012 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. The ruling grew out of a Louisiana case involving Henry Montgomery, who was sentenced to life without possibility of parole when he was 17 in 1963.

Louisiana was one of three states who subsequently maintained that the Montgomery ruling was not retroactive. In a 2016 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery was retroactive and that states are obligated to offer those former juveniles serving life sentences the opportunity to seek parole.

In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on Sunday, Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy Leblanc said that Louisiana has 160 former juveniles now serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.

When the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee considered the bill on May 10, the committee amended the bill to allow district attorneys the latitude to seek life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles who are found guilty of first degree murder or second degree murder. That would appear to leave Louisiana in violation of the Supreme Court ruling.

Criminal Justice Committee chair Rep. Sherman Mack has filed an amendment for floor consideration today that would allow those convicted of second degree murder to seek parole but would still not offer the possibility of parole for juveniles with first degree murder convictions. That amendment will be debated on the floor when the bill is called.


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