A decision that you make when you're a teenager could affect the rest of your life. This is especially true for Jeffery Ragland, a 47-year-old who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison when he was only 17.
After spending 20 years in prison, he is trying to get his life back.
On April 9, 2013, the Iowa Supreme Court will hear Ragland’s case asking for parole on his life sentence.
The United States Supreme Court ruled on a similar case, Miller v. Alabama, in June 2012, and found that states could not mandate life sentences without parole for murders under the age of 18.
This means that anyone convicted as a juvenile presently serving life in prison will need to have a resentencing.
But does time really change a person’s mind? Bethany Weber, psychology professor at Iowa State, said there has been research recently released that shows brain development in a person’s late teens and 20s.
“Teenagers are more likely to take risks. People become more risk-versed — but I don’t know to what extent. I would not be surprised if they would be less likely to commit crimes, but that’s not a safe assumption,” Weber said.
Weber also said there are a lot of other factors than just age and that there is not a standard answer for everyone.
According to Iowa Corrections, Iowa currently has 39 people serving life sentences for crimes they committed when they were under the age of 18.
“[Miller v. Alabama] means 38 dangerous murderers would face resentencing and could get a lesser sentence,” said Tim Albrecht, communications director for the governor’s office.
In a proactive decision, Governor Branstad recently announced that he would change the life without parole sentences of 38 juvenile offenders, granting them parole after 60 years.
Albrecht said that the decision made before Miller v. Alabama could go into effect to protect the victims' families.
“Victims are forgotten in the judicial process. The families felt justice and closure after knowing the murderer would spend life in prison. At a re-sentencing the family is going to have to relive through it again,” Albrecht said.