Oklahoma Bill Would Ban Minors From Being Sentenced To Life Without Parole
TULSA, Oklahoma - A bill filed in the Oklahoma legislature could ban sentencing a minor to life in prison without parole.
The lawmaker who wrote it says this an attempt to get Oklahoma's criminal justice statutes in the modern age.
The state senator says the bill is not about getting serious offenders out of jail, but the Tulsa County District Attorney says he has some major concerns with the way the bill is written.
"Just to have absolute prohibition without being mindful of the extreme circumstances of certain homicides is at least a concern of mine," Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said.
But that's how a State Senate bill is written, to prevent minors from being sentenced to life without parole.
It says anyone under the age of 18 when they commit a crime cannot be sentenced to life without a possibility of parole. It also says juveniles can't get a mandatory minimum sentence of more than 20 years.
Kunzweiler says juvenile sentencing is something that courts across the country are looking at, but this bill doesn't do reform any favors. He says teenagers with extreme violent tendencies come to mind; an example is the Michael Bever case Kunzweiler prosecuted.
"There you had someone under the age of 18, who was plotting and did participate in the slaughter of his family members," Kunzweiler said.
The author of the Senate bill says some people should definitely be behind bars, but others should have a chance.
"I admit there may be some horrendous crimes that juveniles under the age of 18 might commit, but the problem is their brains are not fully developed at that point," State Senator George Young said.
He says by putting people in prison, it eliminates the possibility of rehabilitation.
"You're just throwing that life away, there's nothing they can contribute to society," Young said.
But DAs like Kunzweiler say there's a reason some people need to stay in prison.
"Some people probably shouldn't be your next door neighbor at some point in the future if they have those kind of violent, aggressive, murderous tendencies," Kunzweiler said.
Lawmakers will consider the bill when the return to the state capitol on February 3rd.