In keeping with “raise the age” law, Governor establishes new panel that can make recommendations for clemency
Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order Thursday forming the state’s Juvenile Sentence Review Board. The advisory board will review the sentences of people who were tried in adult criminal court in their teens over a decade ago, and then make clemency and commutation recommendations to the governor, according to a press release.
Nowadays, most teens under 18 enter juvenile courts first if they don’t have criminal convictions, except if the conviction is a misdemeanor unrelated to impaired driving under North Carolina’s bipartisan Raise the Age Act. Yet before the state enacted the law in December 2019, 16 and 17-year-olds were automatically tried in the state’s adult criminal justice system regardless of their charges.
Back then, teens were denied the chance to have their cases heard in juvenile court proceedings, which includes counseling and rehabilitation and the North Carolina Judicial Branch describes as “more informal and protective than a criminal trial.” Gov. Cooper’s order now reviews the petitions of qualified individuals who missed the new opportunity before the law was passed and potentially received harsher sentences.
Those eligible to file petitions must have served at least 20 years of their active sentences, or 15 years of their minimal sentence if they have multiple sentences.
“For those who have taken significant steps to reform and rehabilitate themselves, this process can provide a meaningful opportunity for release and a life outside of prison,” Cooper said in the press release.
After receiving petitions, the board will then make recommendations based on a petitioner’s prison record, circumstances of their case as well as their mental health state at the time, rehabilitation results, the present risks to public safety, their family’s input and whether race unduly influenced their trial or sentencing.
In his order, Cooper laid out two main tasks of the board: to “promote sentencing outcomes that consider the fundamental differences between juveniles and adults” and to “address the structural impact of racial bias.”
Cooper appointed four members of the board, who serve at his pleasure:
- Marcia Morey, chair of the review board, is the state representative for House District 30. Morey, D-Durham, was a district court judge in Durham for 18 years before serving as Chief District Court Judge for five years. She is a member of the Governor’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice and proposed several Raise the Age bills this year.
- Henry McKinley “Mickey” Michaux Jr. is a civil rights attorney and a retired state legislator. He represented House District 31 twice, from 1973 through 1977, and then 1983 to 2019.
- Thomas Walker is a partner at the Atlanta-based law firm of Alston & Bird. He is a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina from 2011 to 2016. He was a special counsel to Cooper when Cooper served as the state’s attorney general.
- Allyson Duncan is a former judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth District. Prior to her tenure on the federal appellate court, Duncan served as an associate judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, the first African American in that position.
Morey touted the task force as “a monumental step forward for juveniles who were sentenced as adults” in a tweet.
The board was created at the recommendation of the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice.
The order is effective immediately through the end of 2024.