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NC legislators seek to comply with federal ruling

RALEIGH (AP) — North Carolina House members are trying to use the last days of the legislative session to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down automatic life sentences without parole for youths convicted of murder.
A bill in the House Judiciary Committee today seeks to make North Carolina comply with the federal ruling. It would require minors convicted of murder to serve a 25-year minimum sentence before parole. North Carolina is one of the nearly 30 states that make life without parole the mandatory sentence for youths who commit certain types of murder.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision does not prevent minors from being sentenced to life without parole for first-degree murder convictions. The major change is that judicial systems cannot mandate life without parole for minors without considering evidence that could reduce sentencing. Under current North Carolina law, only the death penalty or life without parole is an option for those convicted of first-degree murder.
Legislators say they want to tweak state law because it now conflicts with federal law. The ruling also opens up parole appeals for some North Carolina inmates. The state Division of Adult Correction said 88 people in North Carolina are serving sentences that could be affected by the ruling.
“One of the critical factors on why we need to act now is there are people in prison right now without parole that might need release,” said Republican Rep. Sarah Stevens, chairman of the committee. “There are several of cases pending throughout the state where they’re acting under the old law even though the Supreme Court has done this.”
Some members expressed concern about acting too quickly.
“Every state is facing this,” said Democrat Rep. Rick Glazier of Cumberland County. “We’re probably the first one, I suspect because we’re in session, to react to this. It would at least be nice before we pass this to have some public comment from juvenile law folks or professors about their take on it.”
House members ran out of discussion time, and created a subcommittee to work on the idea this weekend. Republican House Majority Leader Paul Stam of Wake County will chair the subcommittee. He said he hopes to have the bill back to, and out of, the judiciary subcommittee Monday and voted on in the House and Senate the same day. He said Senate members were on board with moving forward with the idea before the session ends.
“If we do something quickly, which I think we should so those people are not in limbo for six months; anything you do quickly you may wish it was something else,” Stam said. “The idea is to ask the sentencing policy committee to take a look at it and suggest changes to whatever we come up with.”

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