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In juvenile defense, life without parole is off the table

Being charged with a juvenile offense is a serious matter that can impact the trajectory of a young person's life. This is especially true for allegations involving more serious matters, such as assault and murder. What some people in Colorado may not know, is that a minor cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole even if he or she is convicted of committing murder. However, this does not mean that a minor defendant should not be vigilant in constructing a juvenile defense.

Colorado is one of 19 states that have de facto bans on sentencing juvenile defendants to life in prison without the opportunity for parole. This is strongly supported by psychologists and neuroscientists who understand just how the brains of youth grow and develop. For humans, the brain continues developing until well into the mid-20s. Most people already know that teenagers are more likely to make so-called "bad" decisions than adults, but science is now able to definitively understand that minors are more susceptible to being influenced by their peers and to suffer from poor-impulse control.

An out-of-state case highlighted the difficulty of sentencing in such cases. Although Iowa recently banned this type of sentencing for minors, a 2014 case ended in a sentence to life without parole for the shooting deaths of a 17-year-old's grandparents. A psychologist who examined the defendant testified that the boy had mentally matured to the age of about 12 and that the chance for rehabilitating him in prison was not clear and that it would be hard to correctly evaluate him until he was about 30. The judge overseeing the case did not appear to take this into account when sentencing who he said was a "dangerous" person to a lifetime sentence.

There is admittedly little arguing against the serious nature of a murder charge and subsequent conviction, but the matter is not always as clear cut as people in Colorado hope. The age of a defendant, his or her respective maturity and the circumstances surrounding an allegation can all factor into a charge. Minimizing the impact of this type of charge is a priority for most people, and the best possible juvenile defense strategy can typically be crafted by conducting a thorough review of all charges and related evidence.

Source: wfmynews2.com, "Court: Juvenile Killers Can't Get Life Without Parole", Grant Rodgers, June 10, 2016

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