How MN is affected by the Supreme Court's juvenile life sentence decision


The Supreme Court decided Monday its previous ruling that put an end to mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles is retroactive – meaning it applies to those who were sentenced even before the decision.

In 2012, in the case Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to impose mandatory life without parole sentences on juveniles, because even children who commit the "most heinous murders" are capable of change.

Minnesota was the first state to rule the court's decision did not apply retroactively – and was ultimately one of six states to come to that conclusion, Courthouse News Service reported.

But the Supreme Court's decision Monday – Montgomery v. Louisiana – rules Miller v. Alabama is indeed applicable to earlier cases.

"Prisoners ... must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored,” the ruling says.

That means anyone who was under the age of 18 when they were convicted of murder and sentenced to mandatory life without parole should be given some sort of relief – either new sentencing or the chance to argue for parole, Perry Moriearty, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who focuses on juvenile justice, explained to BringMeTheNews.

The Supreme Court leaves it up to the states though to decide exactly how to move forward, Moriearty notes.

How it affects Minnesota

In Minnesota, she says, there are eight people who received mandatory life sentences as teenagers that could be affected by this ruling.

The ruling doesn't require states to re-litigate sentences or convictions in every case that involves a juvenile who was sentenced to mandatory life without parole – instead of re-sentencing them, states may allow them to be considered for parole.

But that's more complicated in Minnesota, which doesn't have a parole board for felony offenders. So it will likely be up to the state legislators to decide how to move forward in the wake of these Supreme Court decisions.

A bill abolishing mandatory life without parole for juveniles is expected in the upcoming session, Moriearty says, noting similar bills have been introduced in previous years.

But in the meantime, judges could decide on a case-by-case basis to re-sentence those affected by the Supreme Court's ruling.

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