Life Without Parole

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Mental Health America MHA opposes sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders and emerging adults -- individuals of the ages between 18 and Such sentences are inconsistent with any of the purposes which ordinarily guide sentencing: deterrence, retribution, incapacitation, or rehabilitation.

The Meaning of Life Without Parole

The United States is one of the few countries in the world that allows for sentencing juvenile offenders to life without parole, one of two countries that currently have people incarcerated for crimes committed as juveniles, and the only country currently known to still sentence juveniles to life without parole. Our society recognizes that juveniles differ from adults in their decision-making capacities as reflected in laws regarding voting, driving, access to alcoholic beverages, and consent to treatment. Developments in psychology and neuroscience support this distinction and have continued to demonstrate fundamental differences between juveniles and adults.

Biologically, adolescent brains are still developing, particularly in regions associated with higher-order functions including impulse control, planning, and risk avoidance.

Fighting to End the Other Death Sentence: Life Without Parole

Emerging adults are also in a phase of heavy brain development. The brain continues to develop until the age of The U.

Convention of the Rights of the Child, ratified by nations, explicitly prohibits the imposition of life without parole for crimes committed by juveniles. Such sentences also constitute a violation of additional international treaties, including:. Over the past ten years, the Supreme Court has recognized that juveniles are inherently different from adults. First, in the Roper v. Simmons decision, the Court declared the juvenile death penalty to be unconstitutional.

Simmons , U. Following Roper , the Court held in Graham v. Florida that life without parole could not be used as a sentence for minors convicted of non-homicide offenses.


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Florida , U. The Court returned to the issue of juvenile life without parole in Miller v. Alabama , S. In Miller , the Court considered a challenge to mandatory sentences of juvenile life without parole for homicide offenses. In Miller, the Court determined that mandatory sentences of life without parole were categorically unconstitutional as applied to juvenile defendants. Writing separately, Justice Breyer specifically addressed the question of felony murder, the charge for which one of the youths at issue in Miller had been convicted.

What are Criminal Punishments?

The Alabama Supreme Court held in Wilkerson v. State there is no presumption against life sentences for juveniles, so long as the sentence is not mandatory.


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  5. Miller , in addition to not addressing whether the 8th Amendment categorically forbids juvenile life without parole, did not address whether the Miller rule applied retroactively to juvenile offenders already imprisoned. In Pennsylvania, the jurisdiction with the most juvenile offenders serving mandatory life without parole, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced that Miller did not apply retroactively.

    On the other hand, the California Supreme Court found that all juvenile defendants sentenced to mandatory life without parole before Miller were entitled to petition for review of their sentence. People v. Caballero , 55 Cal. The Caballero court also found that a sentence of years to life was a de facto sentence of life without parole and the defendant was entitled to have his sentence revisited under Miller.

    Indeed, state courts have begun to rule that certain sentencing schemes are de facto mandatory life sentences without parole. State ruled that a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years for first-degree murder with a consecutive year sentence for aggravated burglary qualified was a de facto mandatory life sentence without parole. People , the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a year sentence was the functional equivalent of life without parole.

    Moore ruled that a mandatory sentence that exceeds the life expectancy of a juvenile offender was a de facto mandatory life sentence. Several legislative responses to Miller have been introduced. After the Massachusetts Supreme Court struck down all sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders, mandatory or not, in Diatchenko v.

    What is Life Without Parole?

    District Attorney for Suffolk District , 1 N. Sentencing, including sentencing to imprisonment, has long been guided by four considerations: deterrence, retribution, incapacitation, and rehabilitation. None of these purposes is served by sentencing juveniles to life without parole. The deterrent value of life without parole has yet to be demonstrated.

    It is particularly unlikely to deter adolescents from crime, as they tend to live in the present, think of themselves as invincible, and have difficulty contemplating the long-term consequences of their behavior. Those legislators included House members and Senators, Democrats and Republicans. State Senator Sharif Street of Philadelphia, a leader in legislative efforts to change LWOP and initiate other criminal justice system reforms, addressed the often-overlooked financial costs associated with life-time imprisonment.

    Johnson-Harrell said noting the impact of poverty and despair on fatal violence. However, the presence of Rep. Some Coalition members have experienced the dual trauma of losing a family member to murder and losing another family member to a LWOP sentence. Let us heal together. People deserve a second chance. This category of inmates were sentenced for their involvement in a crime where an accomplice killed someone.

    Pennsylvania once led the nation in imprisoning nearly juvenile lifers until a U. Supreme Court ruling a few years ago that deemed the practice unconstitutional. Linn Washington, Jr. He lives in Philadelphia.