This week, the United States Supreme Court ruled that individuals serving life sentences for murders they committed as teenagers must have a chance to seek freedom. The decision is an extension of a 2012 decision banning mandatory life terms without parole for teenagers. Now, these prisoners must be resentenced altogether or given consideration for parole.
Some states, however, argue that most changes in criminal law do not apply to settled cases, and are rejecting the pleas of prisoners whose crimes were committed – in some cases – decades ago. Here are the most socially shared thoughts on the Supreme Court’s ruling and whether it should retroactively affect already settled convictions.
WHAT ABOUT THE FINALITY OF CONVICTIONS?
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Washington Post – “There most certainly is a grandfather clause — one we have called finality — which says that the Constitution does not require states to revise punishments that were lawful when they were imposed.” [Justice Anthony] Kennedy acknowledged the difficulty of determining decades later whether a judge was correct to have justified sentencing a youth to life imprisonment because of “irretrievable depravity…” Read more.
SCOTUS CLASSIFIES THE RULING AS A SPECIAL CATEGORY OF EXCEPTIONS.
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NBC News – The courts have long held that society has an interest in the finality of convictions. But by a vote of 6-3, the Supreme Court said its 2012 ruling fit in a special category of exceptions applying to decisions that ban certain forms of punishment for a class of offenders because of their status… Read more.
HUNDREDS OF JUVENILE LIFERS HAVE BEEN IMPRISONED FOR DECADES.
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USA Today – Hundreds of them were imprisoned in the 1980s and ’90s, when the battle against juvenile crime peaked; some date back to the 1950s. Fourteen state supreme courts have said the 2012 ruling applies retroactively. Seven others, as well as four federal appeals courts, have said it does not… Read more.
THE RULING DOES NOT NECESSITATE RESENTENCING.
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fox11online.com – Kennedy said states do not have to go so far as to re-sentence people serving life terms. Instead, states can offer parole hearings, with no guarantee of release if inmates fail to show that they have been rehabilitated… Read more.
WHETHER THE 2012 DECISION SHOULD BE APPLIED RETROACTIVELY DEPENDS ON ONE QUESTION: WAS THE RULING SUBSTANTIVE OR PROCEDURAL?
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The New York Times – New substantive decisions apply retroactively, while new procedural ones generally do not. There was some reason to think the 2012 decision was procedural, because it required new sentencing procedures rather than banning the punishment of life without parole for all juvenile killers… Read more.
JUSTICES IN OPPOSITION DESCRIBE THE RULING AS “A DEVIOUS WAY OF ELIMINATING LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE FOR JUVENILE OFFENDERS.”
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Washington Times – In a dissenting opinion, however, Justice Antonin Scalia called the ruling “nothing short of astonishing” … “In Godfather fashion, the majority makes state legislatures an offer they can’t refuse: Avoid all the utterly impossible nonsense we have prescribed by simply ‘permitting juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole,’ ” he wrote on behalf of the three justices opposed to the ruling. “Mission accomplished…” Read more.
NEW SENTENCING HEARINGS WOULD BE COSTLY AND DIFFICULT FOR STATES TO CONDUCT.
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NPR – Louisiana and other states argued before the court that if they were forced to hold new sentencing hearings, it would be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. The state’s lawyer said that about half of these so-called juvenile lifers have been in prison for 20 years or more and that in many cases, the witnesses, defense lawyers and prosecutors are dead, and the records impossible to locate… Read more.
IN SOME CASES, THE RULING MAY AFFECT INDIVIDUALS SERVING MANDATORY SENTENCES FOR SECOND-DEGREE MURDER.
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Philly Voice – Levick noted that in Pennsylvania there was a mandatory sentence of life without parole for anyone convicted of first- or second-degree murder. And, she said, in cases of second-degree murder – which accounts for about 35 percent of the prisoners serving life in the state – people might be sitting in prison for their entire lives for a crime they had very little to do with… Read more.
What are your thoughts on the Supreme Court’s ruling? Tell us in the comments.