Damico & Stockstill, Attorneys at Law

High court will take up issue of life sentences without parole for juvenile murderers

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up two cases-one from Alabama and one from Arkansas-on the issue of whether teenage murderers should be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. The issue is one that some Louisiana inmates are particularly interested in, as the state's justice system grants few petitions for clemency in such cases.

The high court ruled in 2005 that the Eighth and 14th amendments prohibit the execution of criminal that commit crimes while under the age of 18, and struck down life-without-parole sentences for juveniles who committed offenses less serious than murder. But the issue remains whether states are able to sentence teen murderers to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Nationwide, roughly 2,400 prisoners are serving life in prison for murder they committed as juveniles. About 180 of them are from Louisiana.

Sources note that, in recent years, public policy and sentiment has increasingly shifted toward taking a more understanding approach to the situation of juvenile murderers. Hopes of taking advantage of the potential to reform and increased understanding of brain development are part of the picture.

In many juvenile cases, those convicted to life in prison didn't even commit the murder, but were merely in the presence of the murderer.

Just last year, Louisiana Senator Danny Martiny sponsored a bill which would have abolished sentencing juveniles to life without parole for any crime, but that bill failed 25-10.

It isn't clear how the Supreme Court will rule in the upcoming cases. But a number of Louisiana inmates wait in hope that the high court will demonstrate some understanding of the uniqueness of juvenile convicts.

Source: Nola.com, "U.S. Supreme Court to review issue of whether teenage murderers should get life without parole," December 1, 2011.

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