Hundreds of individuals sentenced as juveniles to life in prison received disappointing news earlier this month when the nation’s highest court refused to take up the issue of whether a law doing away with mandatory life imprisonment without parole for juveniles applies retroactively. That law was spelled out in a Supreme Court case in 2012 out of Alabama. The case did not say whether it applied retroactively.
The issue is not one that is confined to Pennsylvania alone. A handful of states have already determined that the law is retroactive. Several others, including Pennsylvania, have found it is not. The Supreme Court’s decision not to take up the case could simply be because it doesn’t consider it the appropriate time to address the issue.
Supporters of retroactivity say that even though the Supreme Court didn’t explicitly make the law retroactive, it must be considered retroactive in order to be fair. The issue, according to experts, will have to be addressed at some point as more states grapple with the issue.
Juvenile law, of course, has a very different goal from the criminal justice system. Whereas the criminal justice system tends to view offenders primarily in a punitive light, juvenile law tends to take an approach that seeks to help young people reform and minimize the long-term consequences of their actions. Young people charged with criminal offenses have great need of an advocate to ensure they receive the best possible protection available, particularly if they are transferred over to the criminal system.
Source: Pitts burgh Post-Gazette, “U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear Pennsylvania case on mandatory life for juveniles,” Paula Reed Ward, June 9, 2014.