March 1, 2023

A bill to end life without parole for juveniles advances

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

A bill to end life without parole as a sentencing option for juveniles passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on a 4-to-2 party line vote Tuesday.

SB 64, No Life Sentence for Juveniles, is sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, who said the New Mexico Supreme Court has been asking the Legislature to “do something about this since 2009.”

The bill will, if enacted, retroactively impact adults who are already serving long sentences because of crimes committed as juveniles, as well as juveniles sentenced as adults going forward. Currently, there is no one in New Mexico serving a life without parole sentence for a crime committed while a minor, but it would end the sentence as an option, Sedillo Lopez said.

State Sen. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor on the bill, said “this is not a get out of jail free card.”

Incarcerated individuals serving time for crimes committed as juveniles ages 14 to 17 can be eligible for parole at 15 years, 20 years or 25 years. State Sen. Bill O’Neill, also a co-sponsor, said that the parole boards take public safety in mind, as well as the victims, when determining if an incarcerated individual is eligible for parole.  Incarcerated individuals who commit first degree murder other than a felony murder, parole eligibility comes at 20 years. For incarcerated individuals with two or more convictions, parole eligibility is set at 25 years.

O’Neill said this bill really addresses individuals who face stacked sentences.

Both Republican state Senators Stefani Lord, of Sandia Park, and John Block, of Alamogordo, asked about the mechanics of the bill and argued that the individuals sentenced to long sentences should not be allowed to have parole hearings at 15, 20 or 25 years.

Sedillo Lopez said these individuals were children “who made big mistakes as children, but are reformed.”

“We are all different people at 30 from when we’re 15. That’s what this bill is about,” she said.

Lord made a motion to table the bill, but that motion failed by a 4-to-2 party line vote.

The bill heads next to the House Judiciary Committee.