Academic journal article South Dakota Law Review

Monster under the Bed: The Nightmare of Leaving Juvenile Life Sentences Up to the Parole Board

Academic journal article South Dakota Law Review

Monster under the Bed: The Nightmare of Leaving Juvenile Life Sentences Up to the Parole Board

Article excerpt

"It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world.... You accuse me of murder; and yet you would, with a satisfied conscience, destroy your own creature. Oh, praise the eternal justice of man!"      -Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1) 


At bedtime, monsters invoke fear in children across the world. (2) These imagined creatures hide in closets and lurk under beds, baring fangs and claws, waiting for darkness to fall. (3) They survive on blood, flesh, and fear. (4) Monsters, according to some, are real--in fact, society often labels the worst juvenile delinquents as monsters; creatures void of innocence and purity. (5) The reality is that the child is not the monster. (6) Rather, the monster is a juvenile justice system that allows children to live a nightmare and remain in prison until they die. (7)

When sentencing juveniles convicted of serious crimes, courts often impose lengthy sentences with the possibility of parole. (8) The parole system has long been a discretionary tool available to sentencing courts for criminals who might have the capacity to reenter society at some point. (9) Ultimately, parole boards hold the authority to decide if release is appropriate and what conditions to impose, along with the power to revoke release with misbehavior. (10) Despite abolishment of the federal system in part due to its predisposal to pitfalls, state parole systems have survived." States use parole for several reasons: (1) parole allows relief from lengthy sentences mandated by law; (2) parole works as a "release mechanism" in crowded prisons; and (3) the prospect of parole serves as an incentive for current inmates to follow the rules. (12)

Throughout the past decade, United States Supreme Court decisions shifted to find that certain sentences for juvenile offenders, namely life sentences without parole, constitute "cruel and unusual punishment." (13) With such holdings, the Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized the mitigating circumstances to be considered in sentencing youth and implemented certain constitutional constraints for states to follow. (14) Citing compelling research, the Court determined that juvenile offenders should be rehabilitated and eventually released. (15) Research also indicated that lack of maturity, impulsiveness, and susceptibility to external pressures lead to juvenile delinquency. (16) As delinquents progress into adulthood, most offenders indicate a low risk of recidivism; nevertheless, many of these individuals remain incarcerated, serving life sentences for the crimes they committed as youths. (17)

Two cases decided by the South Dakota Supreme Court in 2017, State v. Charles (18) and State v. Jensen, (19) show the Court's recent misapplication of the United States Supreme Court "trilogy" of juvenile sentencing decisions. (20) After Miller v. Alabama (21) found mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles convicted of homicide unconstitutional, juveniles previously sentenced to mandatory life sentences had the opportunity to have their sentences corrected. (22) The recent Charles and Jensen decisions revisit the late-1990s homicide sentences of two boys, each of whom had been sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole at age 14. (23) Although the 2017 decisions are the focus of this comment, the earlier decisions are referenced briefly for factual and procedural purposes. (24)

In 1999, 14-year-old Daniel Charles was found guilty of the murder of his stepfather. (25) After applying to have his sentence corrected, the trial court resentenced Charles to 92 years in prison. (26) Similarly, in 1996, Paul Jensen, a 14-year-old, received a life sentence without the possibility of parole after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder and kidnapping of a taxi driver. (27) After Montgomery v. Louisiana (28) held that Miller applied retroactively, Jensen filed a motion to correct his sentence, where the trial court resentenced him to two concurrent, 200-year sentences for the convictions. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.