U.S. Supreme Court watchers are awaiting a decision this week on the controversial issue of mandatory sentencing of juveniles to life without parole. Pennsylvania has mandatory life without parole for first and second degree murder. A juvenile convicted of murder as an adult has no options.
The court must decide whether it is cruel and unusual punishment to put minors in prison for the rest of their lives without any possibility of release, even if they killed someone or were involved in a murder, without considering their age or circumstances.
The court’s ruling will be on two separate but related cases, Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama, involving two 14-year-old boys sentenced to life without parole under mandatory sentencing laws in their states, Alabama and Arkansas.
The Supreme Court has been chipping away at the most harsh sentences imposed on juveniles. On two previous occasions, the Supreme Court has affirmed that under the Eighth Amendment, juveniles could not be given death sentences or life sentences without parole for crimes other than murder because to do so would be excessive. Now, it must decide whether it is excessive for states to do so even in the case of murder or manslaughter.
According to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, in the last 40 years, about 7,000 children have been arrested for murder or manslaughter. The United States leads the world in incarcerating juveniles for life without the possibility of parole. And Pennsylvania leads all states, by far, in the practice reported the Philadelphia Inquirer. Pennsylvania has at least 450 inmates convicted of homicide committed when they were juveniles.