OLYMPIA – Legislation passed today by the Senate would permit courts to consider the maturity of a defendant in sentencing decisions.
Sponsored by Sen. Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma), Senate Bill 5488 would allow judges to use discretion when making sentencing decisions for a juvenile who has been tried in adult courts for a felony committed while under the age of 18. Judges would be allowed to depart from mandatory or standard sentencing guidelines to take into account factors indicating maturity such as age, lack of sophistication, susceptibility to peer pressure, and youthfulness at the time of the offense.
“This bill codifies recent decisions from the Washington Supreme Court in State v. Houston-Sconiers and State v. O’Dell,” said Darneille. “These cases acknowledged the authority of superior courts to exercise discretion when sentencing juveniles, and recognized neuroscientific research showing that the brain does not fully develop until age 25. This aligns our laws with modern advances in the juvenile justice system.”
The Houston-Sconiers case stemmed from an incident where two Tacoma teenagers ages 16 and 17 robbed Halloween candy from several people and received sentences of 31 years and 26 years, respectively. The supreme court decision permitted resentencing that took into account their youthfulness at the time of the events and allowed sentence enhancements to be served concurrently for that reason.
The bill now moves to the House for consideration.