Is Juvenile Life without Parole Cruel and Unusual? Part 2 of 3
Aug. 22, 2014
In my last blog, we talked about the US Supreme Court Case, Miller v. Alabama, that found that juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences are unconstitutional if part of a mandatory sentencing scheme. Read Part 1
Remember, mandatory sentencing schemes are laws requiring a certain sentence for a specific crime. Judges in those cases cannot change the sentence, even if circumstances merit a different sentence.
Since The Miller decision in 2012, courts across the country have been addressing other issues surrounding JLWOP sentences. Courts have primarily been dealing with the issue of whether juveniles sentenced to JLWOP before 2012 should now get new sentences. The states are decidedly split.
The California Supreme Court ruled that the California sentencing law gives judges the ability to consider specific circumstances, including youth, when sentencing juveniles convicted of certain types of murder, complying with the holding in the Miller case.
The California court also found that the same sentencing law was not interpreted as giving judges the ability to consider specific circumstances. Because of this, many juveniles were sentenced to JLWOP, who might not have been. Had specific circumstances been considered, those juveniles might have received a lesser sentence. As a result, the court ruled that juveniles sentenced before 2012 should be re-sentenced.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, on the other hand, found juveniles sentenced to JLWOP before the 2012 Miller decision are not entitled to re-sentencing hearings. Meaning that juveniles sentenced to JLWOP before 2012 in Pennsylvania will continue to serve life without parole sentences even though the US Supreme Court ruled that a mandatory life sentence for a juvenile is unconstitutional and is even cruel and unusual punishment.
The Pennsylvania and California decisions show just how polar opposite state decisions can be on this topic. The problem is the US Supreme Court made it clear that the condition of youth and all its attributes MUST be considered in sentencing. Pennsylvania chooses to leave hundreds of juveniles in prison for life whose youth was NOT considered.
To give you a sample of what’s happening around the country, here are some other examples of what states are doing.
Ohio held that a juvenile sentenced to JLWOP, including those that were not mandatory, before Miller in 2012 must be re-sentenced because youth must be considered as a factor in sentencing.
Virginia and Wyoming currently have cases before their supreme courts dealing with whether those convicted before 2012 should get re-sentencing hearings.
Michigan had found in at least two cases those convicted before 2012 do not get re-sentencing hearings, however, Michigan also ordered re-sentencing for at least one juvenile convicted before 2012.
As you can see, states are decidedly divided on this issue. Until the US Supreme Court addresses this further, there will be no uniformity across the country on JLWOP. The third article I talk about Colorado and what is likely to happen in the next few months.
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