Minors and the Law: Life in Prison Without Parole
Written by Moses & Rooth on April 9, 2015
The punishment of minors who commit serious crimes has often been a highly contested and contentious issue for years. This is in large part due to the implications of a long prison sentence on a minor who, as some would argue, may not have developed the brain function necessary to understand the gravity of their crime or fully process their actions and the corresponding consequences. One type of punishment previously employed was a mandatory life sentence without the opportunity for parole.
However, a few years ago, on June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that this practice is unconstitutional under the cruel and unusual punishment doctrine of the Eighth Amendment in Miller v. Alabama 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012). The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution places a limit on the punishment authority of the government stating that “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
Many criminal defense attorneys who have had clients go to jail under the aforementioned sentence would likely rejoice if not for the Supreme Court’s 1989 decision of Teague v. Lane 489 U.S. 288 (1989). The standard of Teague states that in habeas corpus petitions, only a limited set of important substantive or procedural rights will be enforced retroactively. Many courts have refused to apply the new standard decided in Miller to cases more than 2 to 3 years old.
Ongoing Criminal Law Debate
In our American society, which places such a high value on the concepts of ordered liberty and justice, it would be abhorrent to our Constitution to rule that a mandatory life sentence for a minor with no chance for parole is not a substantive right pursuant to the standard set forth in Teague. Defendants under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes deserve the chance to have their matter remanded for resentencing. As explained by the National Institute of Mental Health, a defendant who committed his crime at the age of 14 will mature both physically and, more importantly, mentally from the time of his sentence until even just 7 years later when he turns 21 years of age. Minors have a propensity to make mistakes and unfortunately some have much more serious consequences than others. In light of this fact, it is essential to the fairness of our justice system to apply retroactivity to cases where a minor was convicted to a mandatory life sentence without the opportunity for parole.
Act Before Conviction
As this issue illustrates, it is immensely harder to correct any misjustice after a conviction than it is to prevent it in the first place. That is why it is always critical to secure the aid of an experienced criminal law attorney as soon as you are arrested and charged. You will never get a second chance to present your best defense. For help on Orlando and surrounding communities please contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys of Moses & Rooth for representation and guidance throughout the process.