Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Young Murderers|Challenge Nebraska

(CN) - Fourteen Nebraska inmates serving life sentences for first-degree murders committed as minors claim in court that commutation hearings by the state Board of Pardons are unconstitutional.

Lead plaintiff Jeremy Garner claims all the men's sentences are subject to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama in June this year.

The Supreme Court held, 5-4, that the Eighth Amendment prohibits mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile murderers.

The plaintiffs say they are being held on unconstitutional sentences, that the Miller ruling results in Nebraska not having a constitutionally valid sentence for minors convicted of first-degree murder.

The plaintiffs were notified by the Board of Pardons that their commutation hearings were scheduled for Monday and Wednesday this week.

They say state law requires the hearings be initiated by the person seeking relief, but they did not formally apply for the hearings, or withdrew their applications.

"The scheduled commutation hearings violated the separation of powers provided in Article II Section I of the Constitution of the State of Nebraska in that the judiciary has the sole authority to impose an original sentence in each of these cases and no such sentence has been imposed by the District Court," according to their request for a temporary injunction.

"The Board of Pardons is an arm of the executive branch of state government and has no authority to impose an original sentence for a felony offense."

Any action taken by the board to commute the sentences to a term of years would exceed the authority of the executive branch, the men say.

Judge Thomas Otepka on Friday issued an injunction blocking the hearings, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning is expected to ask the Nebraska Supreme Court today to order Otepka to suspend the order.

The inmates are represented in Douglas County Court, Omaha, by public defender Thomas C. Riley.

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