Understanding the definitions of "Felony Murder Doctrine" and "felony" is an essential prerequisite to a discussion of the film and the issues it raises. Review the descriptions and briefly discuss the differences.
- Felony Murder Doctrine: "A rule of criminal statutes that any death which occurs during the commission of a felony is first degree murder, and all participants in that felony or attempted felony can be charged with and found guilty of murder. A typical example is a robbery involving more than one criminal, in which one of them shoots, beats to death or runs over a store clerk, killing the clerk. Even if the death were accidental, all of the participants can be found guilty of felony murder, including those who did no harm, had no gun, and/or did not intend to hurt anyone." Source: Dictionary.com
- Felony: "1) a crime sufficiently serious to be punishable by death or a term in state or federal prison, as distinguished from a misdemeanor which is only punishable by confinement to county or local jail and/or a fine. 2) a crime carrying a minimum term of one year or more in state prison, since a year or less can be served in county jail. However, a sentence upon conviction for a felony may sometimes be less than one year at the discretion of the judge and within limits set by statute. Felonies are sometimes referred to as "high crimes" as described in the U.S. Constitution." Source: Dictionary.com
- Under what conditions do you think someone should be sentenced to life without parole?
- Should these conditions apply equally to juveniles as to adults? Why or why not?
- What factors prompted the change in Colorado from an earlier focus on rehabilitation of juvenile offenders to the present focus on punishment?
- Jacob Ind murdered his mother and stepfather. Should the circumstances of his home life described by defense attorneys and JacobŐs brother mitigate the severity of his punishment? (To "mitigate" is to "lessen in force, intensity or severity.") Do you think the circumstances they described were "mitigating"?
- An attorney in the film says that the law treats most harshly children who kill their parents and most leniently parents who kill their children. Why do you think the attorney thinks children are treated more harshly?
- Shawna Geiger, a defense attorney in Colorado, notes that the Colorado Legislature, when it prohibits adolescents from driving with other adolescents, recognizes that the adolescent brain is not yet fully developed. Yet the same Legislature allows adolescents to be tried as adults for felony murder. How would you explain what Ms. Geiger sees as a contradiction?
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights urges rehabilitation for juvenile (under age 18) offenders and prohibits juveniles from receiving life sentences without the possibility of parole. But when the United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1992, it articulated one exception to the prohibition against juveniles receiving life sentences without the possibility of parole: The most "hardened of criminals" would be treated as adults; juveniles receiving such a sentence would have to be "the worst of the worst."
In 2006, the Colorado Legislature passed a reform bill changing juvenile life without parole to 40 years before parole eligibility, but the bill did not make the reform retroactive, so the reform does not apply to any juveniles sentenced before 2006.
- How would you define the most "hardened of criminals" or the "worst of the worst"?
- Do the juveniles profiled in the documentary fit your definition?
- Do you consider Colorado law as the documentary describes it as consistent with the International Covenant? Explain.
- Why do you think the Legislature did not make the reform retroactive?
- Do you believe the reform should be retroactive? Why or why not?