Should an 18-20 year old committing murder be an automatic life sentence?

Mar 18, 2021, 5:09 AM | Updated: 10:30 am
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(Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

The Washington state Supreme Court has overturned an automatic life sentence for 18 to 20 year-olds who were convicted of murder. Courts are already barred from automatically sentencing juveniles to life without parole, but this took that further.

Under this ruling, courts in Washington can still sentence young adult offenders to life without parole, but only after first considering whether their young age weighs in favor of a lesser punishment. Is it the right approach?

“Sorry, I’m not budging on this one. I feel the same way I did yesterday, six months ago, a year ago, today and probably tomorrow,” KIRO Radio’s Gee Scott said. “If you commit a heinous crime between the ages of 18 and 20, first degree murder or something — you’re thinking about throwing out the window the possibility of life without parole? Sorry, I believe that you should be in the jail for life without parole.”

“I think that if you’re 18, 19 years old, you know better,” he added. “I’ve been 18 years old. I know. I knew then right from wrong. Now, did I make some mistakes? Sure. We’ve all made some mistakes. But you don’t just make a mistake by killing someone. And if you don’t have that on the table, what reason do you have to not do something like that?”

WA high court says no automatic life without parole for 18-20 year-olds

For co-host Ursula Reutin, before a life sentence, we should consider the background of the teenager, the idea that their brain isn’t fully developed yet between the ages of 18 and 20, and the possibility of them turning their life around.

“Let’s say you’ve got an 18 year-old or a 19 year-old who was basically in a home where he didn’t have a lot of supervision. He got into gangs, and then he’s involved in a drive-by shooting. Someone is killed. So is sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. You’re 18 years old. You have zero chance of coming out,” she said. “What if that person, while in prison, is leading an exemplary life, turning their life around trying to do what’s right?”

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“Because I do believe the idea that your brain isn’t fully developed until later. And I understand I’m not trying to minimize, … obviously someone dies, and there should be a punishment,” she added. “And I think that they should be tried as an adult. … But the idea that you would never have a chance. I mean, there are other crimes where you do have a chance for parole. But someone at that young of an age, no matter what they do, they have zero chance of turning things around?”

Gee says he’s empathetic to those with bad backgrounds, but this particular kind of crime goes to far.

“It is important to have supervision. Yes, it is important to have parents to kind of help tell you what’s right from wrong, but I think from 5 years old, we know and understand the consequences of taking someone’s life,” he said. “And when you start talking about 18 to 20 years old, I’m sorry, if you commit first degree murder, I think you should go to jail for life without parole.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Should an 18-20 year old committing murder be an automatic life sentence?