Many states, including Pennsylvania, have strict laws regarding juvenile offenders, but have recently developed new laws and standards for youth brought up on criminal charges. The Connecticut House of Representatives passed a bill in May 2013 that would make it possible for a number of juvenile offenders, including individuals charged with murder and sexual assault, to have a chance at parole. State representatives developed the bill in response to a Supreme Court decision restricting state legislatures from developing mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders. If the bill goes into law, Connecticut becomes the fifth state to enact a law in response to the Supreme Court decision.
If the Connecticut law went into effect, 170 individuals given life sentences as juveniles would be up for parole once they serve a certain percentage of their sentences. Some individuals who committed juvenile crimes could get paroled as early as fall 2013. In the United States, over 2,500 people are serving sentences of life in prison without parole for crimes they committed at ages 13 through 17, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. More than 450 juveniles are currently serving life without parole sentences in Pennsylvania, according to the Juvenile Law Center.
In Pennsylvania under Act 204, juveniles found guilty of first-degree murder can receive sentences of life without parole if they have committed multiple violent offenses. First-time offenders often get 35 years to life in prison if they are 15 to 17 or 25 years to life if they are 14 years old and under if they are found guilty of first-degree murder. With second-degree murder charges, juveniles can receive 20 to 30 years to life, depending on their ages. The March 2013 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case of Commonwealth vs. Batts determined that the ages of accused juvenile offenders and their capacity to be rehabilitated should play a role in their sentencing.
Juveniles can be brought up on a number of different charges in courts, including murder, underage drinking, retail theft, drug possession, vandalism, rape and assault. Before juvenile cases go to local, state or federal courts, parents or guardians have to be notified. In courts, juvenile are treated very similarly to adults and given the same rights, including the right to be represented by attorneys. If they have strong arguments in their favor, juveniles can often get lighter sentences, such as community service, probation or juvenile detention, compared to adults being charged with similar crimes.
Source: Juvenile Law Center, "Juvenile Life Without Parole in Pennsylvania," March 26, 2013.
Source: American Civil Liberties Union, "End Juvenile Life Without Parole"
Source: The Day, "Bill would give juvenile offenders a chance at parole", JACQUELINE RABE THOMAS, May 23, 2013