Supreme Court to rule on life sentences for juveniles. Depending on the outcome of their decision, thousands of inmates who committed their crimes as juveniles could potentially see their life sentences reduced.
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders were unconstitutional, violating the ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling barred future mandatory life sentences without parole for those who committed murder when they were under the age of 18.
Now the Supreme Court has to consider whether this rule should also apply to those convicted as juveniles prior to 2012.
The issue was brought to light with the case of Henry Montgomery. The convict from Louisiana killed a deputy sheriff in East Baton Rouge, in 1963, when he was only 17 years old. His first trial has been deemed tainted and corrupt due to charges of racial prejudice against him. A second trial was held for him, in which life sentence without parole was considered appropriate punishment.
The now 69-year-old is urging the Supreme Court to reconsider cases prior to 2012 in reducing mandatory life sentences for those who committed murder. However, as a general rule, it has long been considered that court decisions should not apply retroactively, as that would bring doubt over the validity of the justice system as a whole, as well as individual cases that have been finalized, where a verdict has been reached.
But lawyers from Louisiana argue that the 2012 decision was not such a fundamental change as it did not de-criminalize conduct that was deemed illegal before. Instead, the Supreme Court ruling from three years ago merely cancelled the need for mandatory life sentences in the case of juvenile offenders who committed first-degree murder.
According to recent statistics, 2,341 people who are now serving sentences of life without parole qualify as former juvenile offenders. The study conducted by The Phillip Black Project has also concluded that over 1,000 of them could potentially be affected by the new decision, if the Court votes in favor of applying the ruling retroactively.
This could have a major impact on the justice system as a whole and re-open the trial for a number of cases that have been previously concluded. However, this will not have any consequence on how future trials in the case of juvenile offenders will be conducted.
Recently, there was a case in Tennessee, where an 11-year-old shot and killed his four-year-old neighbor. Because of much public outrage, the prosecution demands that the boy be tried as an adult. In such instances, the upcoming decision as well as the ruling from 2012 will have no impact on the nature of the trial and the appropriate punishment.
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