Changes to juvenile offender sentences


District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington responded to Natchitoches Times questions concerning the changes to juvenile offender sentences. A story by reporter Natalie Anderson was published in the weekend, July 29 edition.

“SB16 addressed the mandate of the United States Supreme Court that prohibits a life sentence without parole for juvenile offenders.   As a result of three Supreme Court decisions affirming this mandate, juvenile offenders convicted of first- or second-degree murder can’t be sentenced to a term of life in prison without parole.  Instead they only can be sentenced to life in prison with the eligibility of parole after serving a period of 25 years.  SB16 was in response by the mandate of the United States Supreme Court,” Harrington said. “As prosecutors, we are compelled to assist in efforts to responsibly abide by jurisprudence. In the 2017 Legislative session there were efforts to totally do away with juvenile life without parole.  I, as well as other District Attorneys and the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association, opposed that provision and were able to formulate a final version whereby certain violent juvenile offenders who are the worst of the worst can receive life without parole.

Furthermore, for those offenders who were previously sentenced to life as a juvenile now must have a court hearing to determine if the sentence should be served with or without parole.”

Harrington said?there is one case in Natchitoches Parish that is affected by the portion of the new law related to previously sentenced offenders.  “Our office has scheduled the required sentencing hearing in September,” he said.

Anderson also asked Harrington the following questions:

NA: Do you feel this is a good step for Louisiana?

BJH: Well, whether or not if it is a good step for Louisiana is irrelevant.  It is a required act that all 50 states must do to comply with the US Supreme Court.  Therefore, the Legislature complied by enacting this legislation.  As District Attorney, my job is to enforce the statues as provided by the legislature and any court rulings.   We will continue to vigorously prosecute criminals and ensure that justice will be served appropriately in Natchitoches Parish.?

NA: Will this save tax payers money?

BJH: As this bill was in response to the United State Supreme Court ruling dealing with Constitutional issues I have no way of knowing about tax dollar ramifications.  ??I do not support wholesale reduction of sentences or increase of benefits for violent offenders.  Victims of violent crimes deserve protection from offenders and past victims deserve the justice that they were guaranteed at the defendant’s sentencing.