KY Senate Passes Bill to Try Juveniles as Adults in Gun-Related Felonies

In a significant move, the Kentucky Senate approved a contentious bill aimed at trying older juveniles as adults if they use firearms during specific felonies. Sponsored by Sen. Matthew Deneen, R-Elizabethtown, Senate Bill 20 received a 25-9 vote, with one senator abstaining.

Sen. Deneen emphasized the bill’s focus on prioritizing victims over perpetrators and holding violent criminals accountable for their actions involving gun violence. SB 20 proposes automatically transferring juvenile offenders aged 15 and above, charged with gun-related felonies of Class C or higher, to circuit court.

Furthermore, the bill mandates that offenders convicted of Class C felonies involving weapon discharge serve at least 50% of their sentence before parole eligibility, an increase from the current 20%. Sen. Deneen collaborated closely with legal authorities and law enforcement professionals to develop the legislation, ensuring that the severity of the punishment aligns with the gravity of the crime committed.

Addressing concerns regarding prosecutorial discretion, an amendment was adopted to SB 20, clarifying that county and commonwealth attorneys would assess cases and decide whether they warrant transfer to adult court. This provision aims to ensure balanced decision-making in determining the appropriate course of action for each case.

However, the bill faced opposition from some senators who argued that it undermines judicial discretion established by previous legislation. Sen. Whitney Westerfield expressed concerns about deviating from the factors considered when adjudicating juvenile offenders, emphasizing the importance of maintaining judicial and prosecutorial autonomy.

Similarly, Sen. Reginald Thomas voiced dissent, cautioning against adopting a punitive approach that overlooks progress made in criminal justice reform. He argued against reverting to outdated practices and advocated for a more nuanced approach to addressing juvenile offenses.

On the other hand, Sen. John Schickel contended that while SB 20 is not perfect, it fails to address underlying familial issues contributing to crime. Despite acknowledging systemic challenges, he stressed the urgency of addressing immediate concerns related to juvenile gun-related offenses.

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As SB 20 advances, it signals a shift in Kentucky’s approach to juvenile justice, emphasizing accountability and deterrence in cases involving firearms. The bill’s passage reflects ongoing debates surrounding crime prevention strategies and underscores the complexities inherent in addressing juvenile delinquency within the legal framework.

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