26Feb 2016

Supreme Court Ruling Gives Some Juvenile Offenders Second Chance

A recent ruling by the Supreme Court means that prison inmates who were sentenced to life without parole for homicide committed when they were juveniles must now be given a chance for parole. The Court ruled in 2012, in Miller v. Alabama, that a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole violated the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The defendant was tried as an adult for a murder he committed when he was 14. The Court reasoned that a juvenile offender has the capability of maturing and changing, and thus may be deserving of a second chance.

The more recent ruling makes the decision in Miller v. Alabama retroactive to include all states. This means that more than 2,000 inmates nationwide may now be able to get parole. Some of these inmates have spent decades in prison with no hope of release. A number of states are affected by the ruling. The largest number of inmates who fall under the ruling is in Pennsylvania, which has 482 such prisoners. Missouri is second, with 113 inmates who were sentenced for homicide while they were juveniles. Most states automatically applied Miller v. Alabama retroactively to all eligible inmates. Other states that did not do so, in addition to Pennsylvania and Missouri, include Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, and Minnesota.

Some states argued against the ruling, claiming that it would be a financial burden to resentence eligible inmates. The Supreme Court, however, stated that resentencing should not be necessary. Each case could be considered through a simple parole hearing, which would be less costly.

Another argument presented was that resentencing would remove the “finality” of the original sentence. The Court’s opinion was that this would not be the case if the states merely considered the possibility of parole through a hearing. The Court’s ruling also stated that inmates who have not shown evidence of reform should continue to serve life sentences.