Higher Learning: Juvenile Life Without the Possibility of Parole
InsideOUT Writers is honored to be a part of a community of organizations and individuals who are committed to transforming the juvenile justice system. This column highlights people who are making a difference. In this issue, Seth Weiner of the Center for Restorative Justice at Loyola Law School writes about the recent Supreme Court decision regarding the mandatory sentencing of juveniles to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
On June 25, 2012 the United States Supreme Court issued a pair of rulings giving hope to thousands of people across the country sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as juveniles, also known as “Juvenile LWOP.” The decisions in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs recognize that there are significant differences between youth and adults that need to be considered during sentencing.
Dating back to 1988, the Court has forbidden the death penalty for youth who commit murders and it has also barred a sentence without a chance of release for youth who commit crimes in which the victim is not killed. The rulings in Miller and Jackson have banned Juvenile LWOP sentencing when doing so is part of a mandatory sentencing structure. This overturns laws in 29 states where Juvenile LWOP sentences have been mandatory for particular crimes.
When a youth is convicted of murder that occurred before they turned 18, a judge must now focus only on that one individual in choosing a sentence. The judge must balance a youth’s age and life experience, the degree of responsibility the youth was capable of exercising and the youth’s chances to become rehabilitated. The court also said that, “appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.”
This is good news for California, although the rulings will not have a direct effect since California does not impose mandatory juvenile LWOP sentences. However, these rulings mark a trend that is in the spirit and purpose of Senate Bill 9, a new bill introduced in December 2010 that would help give a chance to young people to turn their lives around. The bill has a growing list of supporters, but has yet to become law.
Please contact your representative in the California Senate to let them know how you feel about SB 9.
Seth Lennon Weiner is an attorney and Co-Director of the Center for Restorative Justice at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He earned a B.A. in Community Studies from UC Santa Cruz and a J.D. from Loyola Law School. Seth is a Los Angeles native, born and raised in Culver City where he still lives today. (Special thanks to Miles Metcoff for his research.)