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Bill offers options for juvenile offenders

SANTA FE – The case of Nehemiah Griego, who at age 15 shot and killed his parents and three of his siblings at their South Valley home, has prompted a Belen lawmaker to file legislation that would give judges more options when it comes to sentencing juvenile offenders.

Greg Baca

Sen. Greg Baca, a Republican, said the current system all but ensures that teen offenders sentenced as juveniles are released from state custody at age 21 – regardless of whether they’ve followed up on treatment plans.

“We want people to go back into society that are good,” Baca said Tuesday.

His proposal, Senate Bill 243, would allow judges to impose a “blended” sentence on juvenile offenders, which the law defines as those ages 14 to 18.

In basic terms, that means judges could, after holding a review hearing, tack an adult sentence on to youthful offenders’ juvenile sentences if they violate conditions of the original sentence or commit any additional offenses while in custody.

Baca acknowledged the bill would not affect the Griego case, as legislation typically cannot be implemented retroactively.

However, he said the measure could be used in similar cases in the future.

Law enforcement officials have said they believe Griego had been planning the January 2013 shootings for days.

After a plea agreement, he was ultimately sentenced to juvenile prison until the maximum age 21 instead of adult prison, where he could have faced up to 120 years. Griego turns 21 next month and could be released from juvenile custody on his birthday.

Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office has sought to block Griego from being released, arguing that a Children’s Court judge erred in sentencing Griego as a child by failing to consider both the heinousness of the crime and testimony from doctors who said Griego could not be rehabilitated by age 21.

Baca, a first-term state senator, said the prospect of Griego being released has generated widespread concern.

“It’s five murders, five years (if he’s released),” Baca told the Journal. “That’s kind of shocking.”

But his legislation appears to face long odds at the Roundhouse, with a 30-day session rapidly approaching its Feb. 15 end date.

The measure has been assigned to three Senate committees – usually an ominous sign – and had not been scheduled in the Senate Public Affairs Committee, its first hurdle, as of Tuesday.

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