The Colorado Supreme Court will investigate and rule on the constitutionality of the state's current parole requirements for juvenile sex offenders at the request of the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The issue arose as part of an appeal in a sex offender case where the perpetrator was 15 at the time of the crimes. Omar Ricardo Godinez got 32 years to life for two brutal rapes after being tried as an adult.
Colorado's Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act (SOLSA) is unconstitutional, Godinez has argued, because it doesn't consider the 8th Amendment requirement that juveniles have a "meaningful opportunity to obtain release" if they can show maturity and rehabilitation as adults.
In order to decide on Godinez's case, the 10th Circuit asked the Colorado Supreme Court to decide whether SOLSA "requires, permits, or prohibits parole boards from considering maturity and rehabilitation."
"Absent that clarification of state law, Mr. Godinez and similarly situated minors lack certainty as to whether their sentences comply with the Eighth Amendment," 10th Circuit Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich said.
Prosecutors will argue that SOLSA's provision of parole at the end of the sentence with successful treatment complies with the 8th Amendment.
Maturity is "baked into" progress in treatment, First Assistant Attorney General John T. Lee responded during oral arguments before the case was stalled.
The Colorado Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of Godinez's case last year, which is why he turned to the federal courts.
At the time, justices seemed to reason that SOLSA did satisfy the requirements of the 8th Amendment.
"Mr. Godinez apparently wants a guarantee that he will be paroled in his lifetime. However, a state is not required to guarantee eventual freedom to a juvenile offender," U.S. District Court Senior Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote.
Factors like the likelihood of recidivism have to be considered, the courts said.
More juveniles were tried as adults starting in the 1990s, but recent studies show that doing so did not reduce crime rates.
One judge appeared to recognize that for juveniles, "When they committed the crime they weren’t fully formed in the frontal lobe."
Given that the process of trying children as adults has not had the desired effect, perhaps that would be a place to start in reforming the law rather than trying to decide whether adult courts and sentences are constitutional for minors or not.