Defeating the Racial Justice Act wasn’t the only victory the state’s prosecutors enjoyed this session. They also saw the passage of a bill that increases the penalty for most second-degree murder convictions.
The thinking behind SB105 is that it would give district attorneys more incentive to seek second-degree murder convictions in some cases. It would lead to fewer capital murder prosecutions, which could save the state millions of dollars in rising indigent defense costs.
Higher penalties would also make it easier for victims’ families to accept that choice instead of first-degree murder, which carries penalties of death or life in prison without parole but can be more difficult to prosecute.
The bill would change the minimum sentence from nearly eight years in prison to more than 15 years, and the maximum from more than 32 years to life without parole. First-degree murder requires prosecutors prove a killing was premeditated.
The bill provides two exceptions to the increased penalties: if someone is killed in the commission of an inherently dangerous act or omission, and if someone distributes certain illicit drugs that cause a fatal overdose.
The bill is waiting for the governor’s signature, after passing the House 117-0 and the Senate 48-1. The proposed legislation first cropped up in 2009, but was buried in a committee.
It was originally pushed by a woman whose son was strangled, pushed out a second-floor window, dragged into nearby woods and a plastic bag wrapped around his head. A man was charged with first-degree murder but later offered a plea bargain of second-degree and sentenced to 38 years and four months.
The bill would also increase penalties for repeat offenses of felony death by vehicle.