In a decision that is bound to affect state attitudes towards mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a mandatory life sentence for a juvenile convicted of a crime constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The decision came in two separate cases involving men who had been sentenced to life terms in prison for crimes they committed when they were 14 years old.
The Supreme Court decision could affect the future of as many as 2,000 inmates who are currently lodged in the country's prisons on a life sentence without parole. These inmates face a bleak future and the Supreme Court decision offers them some hope of an eventual reprieve.
Human rights groups and New Jersey criminal defense attorneys, who have long derided mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders, support the ruling. They maintain that the decision acknowledges the differences between adults and children, and provides for differences in their treatment.
In rendering its decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to sentence convicted minors to a life term sentence in prison without any possibility of parole before considering differences in their environment, their age, and the nature of their crimes. Writing for the majority, Justice Kagan explained that a judge or jury must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before sentencing a juvenile to a lifetime behind bars.
The New Jersey criminal defense attorneys at Helmer Paul Conley and Kasselman represent persons charged with DUI, assault, fraud, murder, and other crimes across New Jersey.