March 7, 2023

A bill to end life sentencing for juveniles heads to House floor

Matthew Reichbach

The bill to allow some incarcerated individuals who commit crimes as children to be eligible for parole at 15 years passed the House Judiciary Committee 7-to-3 on Monday.

SB 64, No Life Sentence for Juveniles, is sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque. The bill is a compromise with the Association of District Attorneys and creates a tiered system for parole eligibility so adult inmates who committed particularly egregious crimes as children are not eligible for parole until 20 or 25 years. The bill also ends life sentencing for juveniles tried and sentenced as adults. 

Sedillo Lopez said there is no one who has been sentenced life without parole for a crime committed as a juvenile, but this would end the possibility of that sentencing. Sedillo Lopez said the courts have been asking the Legislature to legislate this for decades.  

Although there have been some Republican arguments against the bill as it has made its way through the Legislature, state Rep. T. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, voted for it. Some Republicans in the Senate and House have also voted for the bill.

Denali Wilson, the bill’s expert witness and an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico said that, during the Susana Martinez administration, a report found that 7 percent of cases that went before the parole board were granted for adult inmates serving long sentences for crimes committed as children. She said that in her personal experience, the rate has been about one in two parole hearings.

The bill heads next to the House floor, and if it passes without amendments would then head to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk.

Updated to reflect that the bill has received bipartisan support.