LITTLE ROCK (KFSM) – Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, filed a bill in the Arkansas House of Representatives on Thursday (Jan. 29) aimed at changing the state’s sentencing laws for minors convicted of certain felonies.
Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, is the Senate cosponsor of the bill, Leding said. The bill filed is called HB 1197 or the “Fair Sentencing for Minors Act.”
Under Arkansas law, if a minor is convicted of capital murder, he or she cannot be given the death penalty. They can, however, still be sentenced to life without parole, according to Leding.
One of the things Leding’s bill would change, if it passes, is sentencing rules for minors convicted of capital murder. It would allow them the possibility of parole after serving a minimum of 28 years if a jury finds the defendant “caused or had a purpose to cause the death of a person,” the bill states.
If a jury finds the minor “did not cause and did not have a purpose to cause the death of a person,” the bill would allow the possibility of a 20-year sentence. If the jury does not make one of the two above findings, the minor could be sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after serving a minimum of 20 years, the bill states.
HB 1197 also contains changes to sentences for minors that commit other felonies including treason, aggravated robbery, first-degree murder, kidnapping and causing a catastrophe, according to Leding.
To read the entire bill, click here.
Irvin and Leding have worked together in the past on human trafficking legislation.
“I’m excited about opening up this conversation,” Irvin said.
Irvin has previous experience with minors committing crimes that affected her family. When she was still living at home with her parents, a group of minors, ages ranging from 10-14, broke into her family’s home, she said. The minors stole a gun, a sword and her father’s navy hat. As Irvin’s family arrived home, they startled the burglars, and the group ran out of the home, down into some nearby woods, Irvin said.
Police arrived, and one of the teens started shooting the gun at officers, according to Irvin. She said nobody was hurt, and in the end, the police were able to take everyone into custody. Irvin also said she didn’t believe the minors came there to hurt or kill anyone. The group was just there to take some items they wanted when things escalated, according to Irving.
James Dold, advocacy director for the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, said similar bills have become law in other states like West Virginia, Texas, Wyoming and more. He and Irvin said both Democrats and Republicans have come together to pass similar legislation, and the issue isn’t limited to one side of the political aisle.
The basis for the bill is that children who commit a crime aren’t as mentally developed and mature as an adult who chooses to commit the same crime, Dold said. The punishments for the crime, therefore, shouldn’t be the same, according to Dold.
It can cost approximately $2.5 million to incarcerate a teenager for life, Dold said. He also said legislation like Leding’s is designed with public safety and fiscal responsibility in mind.
Still, fair sentencing for youth bills do run into some resistance. According to Dold, not every bill passed on the first try.
The next step for the Fair Sentencing for Minors Act is for Leding to present the bill before the House Judiciary Committee.