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Fair to Send Juveniles to Life Without Parole?

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By Jason Beahm on November 01, 2010 10:17 AM

The Supreme Court recently struck down life without parole for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes. The decision, which found that such sentences constitute cruel and unusual punishment, may be part of a trend of reducing sentences for minors. Courts have found that minors are less able to control their impulses and more likely to be capable of being rehabilitated.

Since the decision, state courts in some jurisdictions have been reducing sentences. In Iowa, a judge recently reduced the sentence of Jason Means, who was on a life sentence without parole for a kidnapping he committed when he was 17, so that he would be eligible for parole. Criminal defense attorneys are using the case to argue that juvenile murderers should also receive shorter sentences.

Many say that if a child commits an "adult crime," they should receive an adult punishment. Others say that is a logical fallacy. "Juveniles are special because they are not as mentally developed as adults and have a greater capacity for growth and change than adults, and therefore it's improper to punish them as if they are adults," he said. "They are not adults and can't be punished like adults. The anger and rage that fueled their behavior is different," said Bradley Bridge of the Philadelphia Defenders Association.

Yahoo! News noted the case of a 73-year-old man from Pennsylvania who was sentenced in 1953 to life in prison without parole for his part in two murders. That man is now challenging his sentence. They also noted a case from Michigan where a 14-year-old was sentenced to life in prison without parole for murder. His attorneys are now arguing that his sentence is unconstitutional.

Plus, more than 2,000 U.S. inmates are serving life without parole for crimes they committed as minors, according to a Human Rights Watch survey. The entire number of cases in the rest of the world: 12.

This is a trend that will be interesting to watch. When it comes to long and harsh sentences, especially for juveniles, the U.S. basically stands alone. There seems to be a trend towards more leniency for minors, but whether it will continue is an open question.

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