Sentencing children to life in prison with no possibility of release has long been a controversial aspect of the American justice system. Now, it appears the Supreme Court is set to weigh in on when it’s appropriate.
The New York Times reports, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not a judge must deem a child under the age of 18 “incorrigible” before sentencing them to life without parole.
From the Times:
The case, Jones v. Mississippi, No. 18-1259, concerns Brett Jones, who had recently turned 15 in 2004 when his grandfather discovered his girlfriend in his room. The two men argued and fought, and the youth, who had been making a sandwich, stabbed his grandfather eight times, killing him.
In 2005, Mr. Jones was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, the mandatory penalty under state law.
In 2012, in Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court ruled that automatic life sentences for juvenile offenders violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The decision repeatedly criticized mandatory sentences, suggesting that only ones in which judges could take account of the defendant’s age were permissible.
Miller v. Alabama was made retroactive in 2016 by Montgomery v. Louisiana, and it was on that basis that Jones was granted a new sentencing hearing by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Unfortunately, at the new hearing, Jones was still sentenced to life without parole. Attorneys for Jones believed that the court didn’t consider whether or not he had the capacity to be rehabilitated in its ruling.
This is not a new topic for the court. Previously they were going to decide on the same idea of incorrigibility and youth being a factor in the case of Lee Malvo. Malvo was 17 when he was sentenced to life without parole for his role in the sniper attacks that plagued the D.C area in 2002. Ultimately, the court decided to dismiss the case after a new law was passed in Virginia that ruled underage offenders would be eligible for parole after serving 20 years of their sentence.
Many believe that life without parole for children is excessive. There are cases where a juvenile is too far gone and is beyond rehabilitation. That’s not the rule for everyone, though. To make someone serve an entire life sentence for a horrible mistake they made as a child essentially removes the notion that they can grow, mature and become better people in adulthood. Additionally, so many of our black children have been given harsh sentences in cases with the flimsiest evidence.
A ruling that takes into account a juvenile’s capacity to grow simply seems like the humane thing to do. No word yet on when the case is set to be heard.