What is the fairest way for Pa. to deal with juvenile lifers petitioning for resentencing?
August 15, 2012By Eric Walter
June's U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Miller v. Alabama, striking down mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder, will require changes in sentencing guidelines in Pennsylvania and more than two dozen other states. The decision may — or may not — affect the existing sentences of about 2,500 U.S. prisoners who were convicted as minors.
The majority opinion holds that judges must now consider the youth and life circumstances of convicted juveniles so that each case is treated individually. Life without parole is still a possibility for young offenders; it just can't be mandatory.
Pennsylvania has more prisoners who were sentenced to life without parole as minors than any other state — about 500 — and the least amount of time to deal with the flood of resentencing petitions. Under existing state law, those prisoners have 60 days to re-open their cases, while some states have as long as a year.
If the decision is to work retroactively, which is not at all clear yet, it could mean a lot of potential resentencing hearings and a lot of unhappiness dredged up for the families of murder victims.
What is the fairest way of dealing with this?
Iowa's Gov. Terry Branstad sidestepped the issue in July by commuting the life sentences of 38 juvenile offenders and making them eligible for parole after 60 years. The action seems to be an attempt to protect victims' families, who would be forced to sit through parole hearings if lifers are granted new sentences. He eliminated that possibility and, in going against the spirit of the Supreme Court decision, sparked criticism and legal challenges.
Do you think individual prisoners should be entitled to a resentencing hearing, or is this an unfair burden on Pennsylvania's legal system?
Speaking of unfair — should victims' families be forced to reopen old wounds with more legal proceedings?
Would you support a blanket solution like Branstad's (which, as far as we know, is not on the table in Pa.), or do you think his disregard for individual cases was unfair?
Tell us in the comments below.