Pa. lawmakers weighing reform to mandatory life sentence for felony murder

New Castle News, 05/31/24: “A conviction for second-degree murder in Pennsylvania brings a mandatory life sentence without parole, a penalty that reform advocates say is among the harshest in the country and one that’s inspired House Democrats to propose a reduction of the maximum to 50 years imprisonment with potential for parole.

The House Judiciary Committee held an informational hearing Thursday on House Bill 2296. Introduced by committee chair Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery, the bill proposes the 50-year maximum with lesser penalties for minors charged as adults — 30 years or 20 years depending on their age.

All would have the opportunity for parole at certain points depending on their sentence including individuals already serving life terms.

The potential retroactive application of parole terms was the primary point of contention during the hearing.

Supporters argue the mandatory term is extreme in cases where the convicted person isn’t the perpetrator and that during sentencing, the circumstances of the crime shouldn’t be ignored.

Other states including Minnesota, Illinois and Colorado reformed their respective laws to end mandatory life sentences. The formermost state applied its law retroactively while the latter two did not.

‘People don’t cease to be human just because they’re incarcerated. Yes, they made very terrible mistakes. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be consequences for harm. No one’s saying that. Even this bill is not saying that. It allows for retroactivity, yes, but it’s a process,’ said Roxanne Horrell, legislative director, Straight Ahead, a group working to end mass incarceration. ‘They still have to go through a lengthy process in order to get out.'”

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