U.S. Supreme Court Offers Reprieve to Juveniles Serving Mandatory Life Sentences

life sentence, Hartford Criminal Defense AttorneyHere in Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy has been garnering a great deal of national attention for his work toward marked criminal justice reform. A large portion of his efforts focuses on developing a new approach to rehabilitating juvenile and young adult offenders. The Governor and his supporters believe that the developmental and cognitive differences between younger offenders and adults are significant, and processing defendants of all ages in the same system with the same sentencing standards may be doing more harm than good. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a decision in recognition of such differences, extending a previous ruling that found mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles to be unconstitutional.

No More Automatic Life Without Parole

In 2012, the Supreme Court struck down federal and state laws that require life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of murder. By a 5-4 vote in Miller v. Alabama, the high court established that a young person found guilty of murder could be sentenced to life without parole, but only after careful consideration by a judge or jury of all the relevant factors, including the defendant’s age, maturity, and appreciation of consequences. In the majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that, based on individual consideration, “sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.”

Retroactive Application

At the time of the Court’s decision in Miller, there were over 2,000 inmates serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for murders committed while they were juveniles. Although the ruling prevented the automatic application of new sentences like theirs, it did not address their existing situations. Such was the issue in Montgomery v. Alabama, which made its way to the Supreme Court, with the Court issuing a ruling in January of 2016. The Court, by a 6-3 margin, declared that its decision in Miller was substantial enough that it should be applied retroactively to existing automatic life sentences without parole.

This time, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion which echoed many of Justice Kagan’s assessments from four years ago. Justice Kennedy went on to indicate that resentencing may not be necessary for cases which applied the automatic penalty in question. Instead, all such offenders must now be, at least, offered parole consideration, which “does not impose an onerous burden on the states, nor does it disturb the finality of state convictions.” By providing consideration for parole, the offender’s level of rehabilitation and current risk level can be assessed, and the opportunity for release is possible. “Those prisoners who have shown an inability to reform will continue to serve life sentences,” Kennedy wrote.

Facing Criminal Charges?

Life sentences without the possibility of parole are reserved for the most serious of crimes, including murder. If you or a loved one is facing charges that could lead to such severe penalties, you need help from an experienced Connecticut criminal defense attorney. Call [[phone1]] to schedule your confidential consultation at the Woolf Law Firm, LLC. We will work hard on behalf to ensure that your rights are fully protected at every stage of the criminal justice process.

 

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/04/opinion/connecticuts-second-chance-society.html

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/01/25/supreme-court-juvenile-murder-mandatory-life-parole/76462446/

http://www.npr.org/2012/06/25/155741703/high-court-bars-mandatory-life-terms-for-juveniles

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2016/0125/Supreme-Court-displays-its-evolution-in-ruling-on-juvenile-life-sentences

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