Pennsylvania High Court to Make Make Key Call on Juvenile Life Sentences

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today that may lead to a chance at parole for more than 400 inmates convicted of murder as minors. The Court is deciding if a June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision is retroactive, and if so, what sentence should be given to two convicts in today’s cases. The federal court, in Miller v. Alabama, said that minors convicted of murder have a right to present mitigating factors — such as the immaturity of youth — to sentencing judges. That invalidates one-size-fits-all mandatory life without parole sentences listed in federal and 28 states’ statutes. “It’s about retroactivity and also resentencing,” said Marsha Levick, deputy director of the Juvenile Law Center in Pennsylvania, who is arguing for retroactivity before the court.

In the Wake of High Court Ruling, A Reprieve for Juvenile Lifers?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision banning mandatory life without parole for juvenile criminals gave inmates like Christine Lockheart a glimmer of hope. In response to the Court’s ruling, the Iowa Court of Appeals earlier this month overturned Lockheart’s mandatory life sentence for a murder committed when she was 17 and ordered a judge to hold a new sentencing hearing. But less than a week later, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad commuted the sentences of all state prisoners serving mandatory life terms for crimes committed as juveniles, and instead gave them life with the possibility of parole after 60 years. Lockheart’s lawyer says he plans to challenge Branstad’s order in court, arguing that it violates the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama. That ruling said that sentencing judges should consider the individual circumstances of crimes committed by juveniles, including “how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.”

Lockheart’s case is among the first of what criminal justice experts say will be numerous and lengthy legal battles as courts and state legislatures across the country determine how to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling — and what to do with the estimated more than 2,000 prisoners currently serving mandatory life sentences for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18.

The $1 Million TED Talk

Bryan Stevenson didn’t want to go to TED, the genre-defying annual conference full of big thinkers and big ideas. He brushed it off, claimed he was too busy and, besides, he didn’t know anything about it. He was preparing for a big case that was just days away – one that could result in a total ban on juveniles being sentenced to life without parole. Winning the case is a cornerstone goal of a litigation campaign by Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the Alabama nonprofit Stevenson founded to fight discrimination and injustice in the legal system. “Well, I have to say I wasn’t really interested in going,” Stevenson said in a recent interview.

Suspense Builds in Advance of Supreme Court Ruling on Juvenile Sentencing

WASHINGTON - While most of the nation anxiously awaits a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the federal health care law, juvenile justice reform advocates are on tenterhooks over a ruling expected next week over mandatory sentencing of juveniles to life without parole. At stake is the question of whether it is cruel and unusual punishment to put minors in prison for the rest of their lives without any possibility of release, even if they killed someone or were involved in a murder, without considering their age or circumstances. The court’s ruling will be on two separate but related cases involving two 14-year-old boys sentenced to life without parole under mandatory sentencing laws in their states, Alabama and Arkansas. On two previous occasions, the Supreme Court has affirmed that under the Eighth Amendment, juveniles could not be given death sentences or life sentences without parole for crimes other than murder because to do so would be excessive. Now, it must decide whether it is excessive for states to do so even in the case of murder or manslaughter.

More Health Insurance Providers Back Coverage for Adult Children

WASHINGTON - Three major health insurance companies have announced they will continue to provide coverage to dependent children on family plans until the age of 26 -- a popular part of the federal health care reform law of 2010 -- regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the law’s constitutionality later this month. The announcements by United Healthcare, Aetna and Humana have put competitive pressure on other large insurance providers such as the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, WellPoint and CIGNA, which have yet to follow suit. “The speculation is that many customers have come to expect certain measures in their policies and it’ll be hard to take those back,” Devon Harrick, a senior economist at the National Center for Policy Analysis, told Youth Today. But it remains to be seen how long insurance companies keep those provisions as part of their plans, especially if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (informally called “Obamacare”) or if competitors begin to offer less expensive, stripped-down policies some months down the line, Harrick cautioned. Adults between the ages of 18 and 24 experienced the greatest gains in health coverage of any age group since the passage of the law.

Laws Sending Kids to Adult Court at Issue in New Jersey High Court

Tuesday, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of the state’s so-called juvenile waiver laws – a series of rulings that effectively allow county persecutors, and not state judges, to determine whether juvenile cases should be moved to adult courts. Currently, minors as young as 16 accused of a violent offense, such as homicide or aggravated assault, can be transferred to adult court under the state’s waiver laws, according to New Jersey’s The Record. More than 20 local and national organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the state’s Public Defender’s Office, have challenged New Jersey’s juvenile waiver laws, with many arguing that the regulations – which give judges limited ability to deny prosecutor requests for moving cases to adult courts – are unconstitutional. As the laws are written today, unless a defense attorney can demonstrate a prosecutor’s request that a juvenile be transferred to an adult court is a “patent abuse of discretion,” the presiding juvenile court judge is bound by law to grant the request, The Record reports. Tuesday’s hearing centers on a 2009 Middlesex County mugging involving several juveniles – a case in which the trial judge challenged the prosecuting attorney’s request to move the case to adult court.

Ohio Juvenile Sex Offender Ruling Spotlights National Policy

Juvenile sex offenders in Ohio will no longer be required to register as sex offenders for life, the state’s Supreme Court ruled last week. The 5-2 decision ruled the lifetime requirement is cruel and unusual punishment, reigniting a national debate on how young people convicted of certain sexual offenses should fare under the criminal justice system. The majority opinion found certain parts of the Ohio Adam Walsh Act enacted in 2008 unconstitutional. Many states expanded laws pertaining to juvenile sex offenders following federal legislation in 2006 that sought to standardize how young sex offenders were classified and registered across the nation. “Registration and notification requirements frustrate two of the fundamental elements of juvenile rehabilitation: confidentiality and the avoidance of stigma,” Ohio Justice Paul Pfiefer wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

Supreme Court Prepares to Hear Health Care Reform Case, Young People Take to the Web

For three days next week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that will determine the fate of the health care reform law signed by President Obama two years ago. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act introduced a number of changes to how the health insurance industry operates and would cover more than 30 million uninsured Americans. Immediate changes include allowing adult children to remain on their parents’ insurance until they turn 27 as well as the elimination of yearly and lifetime coverage caps. More changes will be rolled out slowly until 2014, when the full law takes effect. But opponents argue one provision in particular is unconstitutional — the so-called individual mandate that takes effect in 2014 and requires most Americans to purchase health insurance or else face heavy fines.

U.S. Supreme Court Questions If Juvenile Killers Should be Given Second Chance

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today in the cases of two offenders, sentenced at a young age to die in prison, and may choose to further limit such sentences for minors. Kuntrell Jackson of Arkansas and Evan Miller of Alabama were both 14 years old when they were convicted of a homicide, and both were sentenced to life sentences without the possibility of parole (LWOP). For more on the background of their cases, click here. A juvenile's "deficits in maturity and judgment and decision-making are not crime specific," said Bryan Stevenson, who represented both offenders. "All children are encumbered by the same barriers." Stevenson argued that this was the inevitable conclusion to be drawn from the court’s other two recent cases on juvenile sentencing, Roper v Simmons and Graham v Florida.

Life Without Parole for Juveniles: A Brief Look at the Issues

Tuesday the Supreme Court will take up the issue of life sentences without parole (LWOP) for juveniles convicted of murder. In 2010, the nation’s high court ruled juvenile LWOP sentences were unconstitutional in non-homicide crimes. Now, advocates are hopeful the court will extend the same protection to all juveniles, regardless of the offense. Pointing to research indicating that brains continue to develop into the early 20s, some groups, including the American Bar Association, argue juveniles are uniquely suited to rehabilitation and that a life sentence without the possibility of parole is a violation of the Eighth and 14th Amendments’ prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments. Juvenile LWOP sentences are, in fact, very rare, especially for 14-year-olds, the age of both juveniles sentenced in the two cases before the court.