On October 1, 2021, a breakthrough law will take effect that could grant early prison release for juvenile offenders serving long sentences. The measure is one of Maryland’s most significant criminal justice reforms in recent memory.
The Juvenile Restoration Act, or JRA, lets state courts reduce sentences for people who committed a crime as a minor. Prior to this law, there was no immediate way for an inmate to obtain a sentence reduction other than filing a motion for modification of sentence within 90 days of their sentence. The problem with the old law was that it did not take into consideration the profound changes many inmates make of the course of years, and even decades. Judges would sentence a minors based on the worst day of their life – but would be unable to revisit those individuals after they had matured and rehabilitated.
To qualify for a sentence reduction, a petitioner must meet two threshold requirements:
• The offense must have been committed when the individual was a minor, and
• The individual must have served at least 20 years for the offense.
If these two conditions are met, then the court must hold a hearing. At the hearing, the court, may reduce the sentence if two more conditions are met.
• The individual cannot be a danger to the public, and
• The interests of justice will be better served by a reduced sentence.
When deciding if these two factors are met, the court must consider:
• The individual’s age at the time of the offense.
• The nature of the offense and the history and characteristics of the individual.
• Whether the individual has substantially complied with the rules of the institution in which the individual has been confined.
• Whether the individual has completed an educational, vocational, or other program.
• Whether the individual has demonstrated maturity, rehabilitation, and fitness to reenter society sufficient to justify a sentence reduction.
• Any statement offered by a victim or a victim’s representative.
• Any report of a physical, mental, or behavioral examination of the individual conducted by a health professional the individual’s family and community circumstances at the time of the offense, including any history of trauma, abuse, or involvement in the child welfare system.
• The extent of the individual’s role in the offense and whether and to what extent an adult was involved in the offense.
• The diminished culpability of a juvenile as compared to an adult, including an inability to fully appreciate risks and consequences.
• Any other factors the court deems relevant.
Besides giving juveniles who received a lengthily sentence a means to get out prison early, the JRA also prohibits the sentencing judge from imposing life without the possibility of parole or release – the most severe sentence available in Maryland – against a minor convicted as an adult.
The bill became law during the General Assembly’s 2021 legislative session. It passed both chambers, but Governor Larry Hogan vetoed the measure when it went to his desk. Both the House of Delegates and the state Senate then overrode the veto. The JRA will be codified as Maryland CP §8-110 when it goes into effect.