OLYMPIA – Earlier today, Pierce County Superior Court Judge John Hickman held the resentencing hearing for Zyion Houston-Sconiers, a young man who received a 31-year sentence for an armed robbery of candy and a mask in Tacoma on Halloween night, 2012. Houston-Sconiers was 17 years old at the time of the robbery.

The incident involving Houston-Sconiers helped Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, focus her work in the Washington State Legislature on the juvenile justice system, especially with issues relating to youth who automatically decline from the juvenile justice system and are placed under the jurisdiction of the adult court system. In 2015, Darneille met with Houston-Sconiers in prison and remained updated on his progress. Darneille wrote a letter of support for today’s resentencing hearing.

“Today’s verdict is not only a win for our state’s juvenile justice system, but emphasizes the positive decisions and growth Zyion has made during his four and a half years in prison,” said Darneille. “Children are different than adults and should not be treated the same within our justice system. This is a position that the Washington State Supreme Court has recognized as well as the United States Supreme Court. Developments in brain science show that the decision-making parts of the brain are not fully developed until age 26.”

In March, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled Houston-Sconiers deserved a new sentencing hearing. The court ruled the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives Superior Court judges wide discretion when sentencing juveniles in adult court.

“The issue of requiring a formal judicial hearing before an accused youth is sent to the adult system is one that I plan to continue to work on,” said Darneille. “When we send 16 and 17 year old kids to adult court, it should be an exception, not the rule. Children are different than adults, and these old laws from the era of ‘tough on crime should be replaced by ‘smart on crime reforms.”

Houston-Sconiers’ sentenced was reduced by 20 years and is now subject to early-release terms. Houston-Sconiers could be free in as soon as 18 months.

“Through hard work by many in the legal system and in the legislature, we were able to give one young man hope for the future. His story should not be the exception,” Darneille said.