The first impression of what could be a juvenile crime is probably joyriding or shoplifting a DVD from a department store, or maybe a bit more serious matter, such as possessing marijuana. But rarely if ever does one think of murder as a juvenile crime. And how does a judge mete out justice to a 14-year-old when the adult sentence for the crime is life in prison?
The United States Supreme Court has addressed the issue of the sentencing of juveniles. In the case of a juvenile who was convicted for capital murder which happened when he was 14, the Court ruled that sentencing him to life in prison without possibility of parole was unconstitutional. The Court’s decision applies to every jurisdiction, regardless of what that state’s law might have been before the ruling.
The ruling was based on the Court’s reasoning in other cases involving juveniles. Sending children to prison for the rest of their lives with no chance of ever getting out was not in line with the Court’s other decisions.
For example, the Court has ruled that juveniles cannot face the death penalty. And if this case had not involved a death, the juveniles involved could not have been sentenced to life without parole. The Court used the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as the basis for its reasoning.
While the facts of the case decided by the Court were heinous, that apparently did not affect the Court’s judgment. The young man who had received the sentence in question had beaten a man to death with a baseball bat for a small sum of money and a baseball card collection.
He and an accomplice then left the victim's body in his trailer and set it on fire. The accomplice received a lighter sentence because he testified against the defendant.
Part of the Court's reasoning for mitigating the sentence in this case was that even though the murder was "vicious," the victim had consumed drugs and alcohol with the teens prior to the murder and that circumstance should have been considered in the lower court's sentencing decision.
All states, including Kentucky and Tennessee, must comply with the Court's ruling. This gives attorneys who defend juveniles a new argument in plea negotiation of the sentencing phase of these cases.
Regardless of the nature of a juvenile crime, the laws are always subject to change so it is wise to consult an attorney who should be aware of the latest developments.