Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Life sentences for juveniles reconsidered

In February members of the Commission on Juvenile Sentencing for Heinous Crimes testified before a Minnesota House of Representatives committee on the unconstitutionality of portions of Minnesota’s Heinous Crimes Act. Minnesota is one of just eight states with laws that fail to comply with Miller v. Alabama, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of release for juvenile homicide offenders violated the 8th Amendment.

In 2016, Robin Wolpert, then president of the Minnesota State Bar Association, established the commission. The 19-member Commission’s report and recommendations were adopted as a legislative priority for the MSBA in the 2018 legislative session. 

The Commission suggested two alternatives to bring Minnesota law in compliance with Miller: Specify the factors that should be used to sentence juveniles who are convicted of heinous crimes, or eliminate the sentence of life without the possibility of release and establish a sentence of life in prison with the eligibility for parole after a specific term of years. 

A bill introduced in the Minnesota House, HF 3368, provides for a maximum punishment of life imprisonment with the possibility of release after 25 years. There is no Senate companion.

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