Court to Get Pivotal Cases on Juvenile Life Sentences
Brandolph, Adam, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Two arguments before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court next month will "set the framework" for how judges will handle cases regarding mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders, attorneys said on Tuesday.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June found mandatory life terms without parole for those younger than 18 violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment." The ruling didn't bar life sentences for juveniles, but it tossed out the mandatory life- without-parole sentencing practice used in states such as Pennsylvania. It also left a void on how state courts are to handle appeals, an issue the state Supreme Court hopes to address during oral arguments Sept. 12 for two men sentenced to life without parole.
"The state Supreme Court now has an opportunity to look at what Pennsylvania does and set the framework for all cases in the future," said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff. "We know that what they did in the past was wrong and unconstitutional. They now have to respect the kind of individual decision-making the U.S. Supreme Court has demanded."
The state Department of Corrections lists 373 inmates -- at least 55 from Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties -- who were younger than 18 at the time they were sentenced. …