Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Will Supreme Court decision on juvenile lifers be retroactive?

Last week's landmark decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders, found the penalty "cruel and unusual" and a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Legal observers believe the decision will be retroactively applied thus opening the door to a resentencing hearings. Offenders may still receive life, or may have the opportunity to be paroled at some point, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Legislature will declare the Miller decision retroactive, meaning either body will have to determine how to address the issues the high court raised for all 470, some of whom were convicted decades ago.

According to the Post-Gazette, the decision is likely to have a far-reaching impact here, because Pennsylvania has more inmates serving mandatory life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles than any other state. But exactly how it will play out is unclear.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which is set to decide another case on the constitutionality of life sentences for juveniles, could also offer counsel.

Ultimately, the offenders serving life will need to be resentenced.  Once a minimum portion of the new sentence is established, for instance 25 years to life, the offender will be eligible for parole. 

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