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NEW CASTLE, PA - In a landmark ruling, the United States Supreme Court has banned mandatory life sentences for children convicted of violent crimes.
On Monday, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional when it comes to offenders who committed crimes as children.
Former Lawrence County District Attorney Matthew Mangino tells 21 News, "Both the majority and dissenting opinion agreed that there's a difference in brain development on young people that impacts their decision making."
The Supreme Court's decision makes it clear they do not want to lock the prison door and throw away the key for all children convicted of violent crimes, but they are leaving the door open for the strictest punishment of life in prison in some cases.
"The court has just left open the possibility that there are some juveniles that are not fit to be among other citizens, and they've left that open for local trial judges to decide," Mangino says.
Legal experts estimate that there are well over 2,200 offenders locked up for life with no chance for parole in connection with crimes they committed as children and that includes two cases in Ohio, and a whopping 480 cases in Pennsylvania.
That's because in Pennsylvania, judges by law have to impose a mandatory life sentence to anyone regardless of age convicted of first degree murder.
But this latest ruling now gives Pennsylvania judge's discretion to weigh other factors, rather than sentencing a child who commits a violent crime to a punishment as severe as an adult.
Mangino says the ruling means that every state like Pennsylvania that has mandatory life sentences for juveniles is going to have to change their laws, "So the legislature will have to take up this issue and mold a different type of sentence or sentencing structure for first degree murder for juveniles."
Then there's the issue of how to deal with 480 people in Pennsylvania who are already serving mandatory life sentences. The state will likely have to look to the Supreme Court to try to determine whether or not the ruling is going to be retroactive, and each case re-examined.
However, several high-profile cases of child killers in the Mahoning and Shenango Valleys will not be affected by the Supreme Court's ruling, that's because Jordan Brown who was just 11-years-old when he was charged with killing his father's pregnant fiancé was tried as a juvenile and will be released by age 21.
And in Youngstown, child killers 16-year-old Deandre McCrary and now 18-year-old Rayshawn Royal, sentenced just last week, will be eligible for parole after serving 28 years in prison.