Colorado appeals court reduces sentence of juvenile convicted of murder

The Colorado Court of Appeals recently ruled that a man convicted of murder as a juvenile and sentenced to life in prison should be allowed to seek parole after 40 years. The man, who committed the murder as a 17-year-old gang member, was sentenced as an adult for the 2005 crime.

The decision of the appeals court coincides with a Colorado legislative initiative to reduce the range of situations in which juvenile offenders may be prosecuted as adults. A new law places limits on prosecutors' discretion. Now only juveniles prosecuted for the most serious crimes, including violent sex assault and murder, may be charged as adults.

Court rules that juvenile's sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole is unconstitutional

The case of People v. Valles involves a 17-year-old gang member who shot a member of a rival gang in 2005. He was found guilty of "extreme indifference murder" and sentenced as an adult - to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In its recent ruling, the Colorado Court of Appeals affirms the conviction but rules that the sentence should be amended to allow the individual to seek parole after 40 years.

The judges emphasize that the ways in which juveniles differ from adults must be considered in their sentencing, quoting from a United States Supreme Court judgment which specified that "those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison."

The appeals court judgment also describes the sentence given to the youth as unconstitutional. The trial court did not conduct an "individualized sentencing determination" before handing down the sentence. Instead, the sentence was assigned according to a "mandatory sentencing scheme" intended for adults.

Colorado lawmakers limit "adult" treatment of juvenile offenders

According to The Associated Press, the push to limit the adult treatment of juvenile offenders resulted from concerns expressed by some legislators "that prosecutors were charging too many juveniles as adults for mid-level felonies." That tough approach was apparently adopted to deal with high levels of gang violence in Denver in past years.

Under the new law, only juveniles charged with the most serious felonies, such as violent sex assaults and homicide, may be prosecuted as adults in Colorado.

If you (or a loved one) have been charged with a violent crime in Colorado, you should engage an experienced criminal defense attorney. A lawyer with such expertise is fully aware of all relevant legislative developments and court decisions, and can offer valuable advice and vigorous representation at each stage of the prosecution for the alleged offense.