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Bill Addresses Youth Sentencing

In November 2011, Paul Mueller — a constituent of House District 60, which I represent — was brutally stabbed 24 times by a 16-year-old and left to die.

Under current law, the young man — given what he was charged with and because the judge found that he is “amenable to treatment” — will be released when he is 21 regardless of his behavior between now and then.

In this case and others, we need to make sure that we have in place the best possible options for both rehabilitating the youthful offenders in question and maintaining the highest levels of public safety. As a result of this pressing need, I introduced House Bill 142, which provides for dual sentencing.

Under this bill, judges would have another tool to use in sentencing the most violent youths. They would be able to take into consideration the behavior of youths while in custody and the efforts a youth makes towards his/her own rehabilitation.

This information would assist the court in determining the appropriate penalty and the right time for release.

The bill also provides that “serious youthful offenders” cannot be given a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, a change necessitated by a recent decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

In light of the horrific crimes that are sometimes committed by juvenile offenders, we owe it to our communities to explore all possible options to promote public safety. At the same time we have to make sure that we promote rehabilitation, if rehabilitation is a realistic expectation of the youth in question.

Under this legislation, youths would have tangible incentives to take legitimate steps toward rehabilitation, an adult sentence hanging over their head if they are not rehabilitated by age 21.

However, in the event that they are not rehabilitated, this legislation protects the community by placing them either on probation to complete their rehabilitation and reintegrate into their community safely or in the Department of Corrections to serve the rest of their sentence as adults.

While this law would have a very narrow application (there are currently only 16 youthful offenders in the state of New Mexico), it could make a critical difference in certain cases. It could help us keep violent criminals off the streets, as there would be further steps toward rehabilitation after release from CYFD that do not currently exist.

In the absence of meaningful rehabilitation, a judge would have the option to send that offender to the Department of Corrections, which would also enhance public safety.

Unfortunately, this legislation, HB 142, was tabled in committee. Still, I know that this is a vital step in moving our state in the right direction, and moving our state toward positive reform is my job as a legislator.

My priorities continue to be jobs and the economy, education and fighting corruption. But, as we’ve all seen throughout our lives — whether it be in our schools, our sports teams, our jobs or other venues — the concept of “safety first” takes precedence over anything else. When crafting legislation for New Mexicans, I keep this in mind, and preserving and increasing public safety is a fundamental basis for legislation I have introduced this session.

We must continue to work to protect our children, homes and communities, and we must start to adopt the “safety first” mindset here in the Legislature for the entire state.

That has also been the driving force behind the other legislation I have introduced: HB 31 and 32 which would have increased penalties for DWI and HB 195 which would require that areas such as rest stops, transportation facilities and liquor establishments post signs with the Human Trafficking Center Hotline’s contact information.

Although this bill (HB 142) and the DWI bills were recently tabled, I will continue to work toward increasing public safety and protecting our communities.

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