What state has the most people serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles? Pennsylvania. In fact, with more than 450 people serving life sentences for crimes they committed before their 18th birthday, one out of five Americans serving life without parole (LWOP) for juvenile crimes are in Pennsylvania’s prisons.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to impose a mandatory sentence of life in prison and deny the possibility of parole for an offense that someone committed while they were a juvenile. That case is known as Miller v. Alabama. The U.S. Supreme Court found that such a sentencing scheme violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. That was exactly the type of sentencing law that Pennsylvania had in effect for years. Anyone convicted of first or second degree murder was automatically sentenced to a minimum term of LWOP, even if they were under 18 when they committed their crime.
In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, Pennsylvania issued a new law. Now, a person that is convicted of first or second degree murder in Pennsylvania is not automatically sentenced to LWOP if they committed their crime while they were a juvenile. For first degree murder, the penalty can be 25 years to life, 35 years to life, or LWOP. For second degree murder, the penalty can be 20 years to life, 30 years to life, or LWOP. After the new law was enacted, the first two juveniles convicted of murder in Philadelphia avoided LWOP. One received a minimum sentence of 35 years in prison under the new law, and the other received a 50 year minimum sentence.
However, earlier this week a Philadelphia Judge sentenced a young man to LWOP for a murder he committed as a juvenile. Thus, the new law led to the same exact result as the old law. In the Miller decision, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that we think appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.”
While the Supreme Court of the United States may be surprised by what happened in a Philadelphia courtroom this week, many experienced criminal defense attorneys are not. We know that the stakes are high even for juvenile offenders in Pennsylvania court.
Protect your child from the perminant and long-lasting effects of conviction. Contact our criminal defense firm today!