Minnesota court rules juvenile life sentence ban not retroactive

A recent decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court adds clarification to a federal ban on mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles. The court held that the ban cannot be applied retroactively in Minnesota to cases in which sentencing occurred before the ban went into effect.

The recent Minnesota ruling stems from a case concerning the rape and murder of an 18-year-old Woodbury woman in July 2000. The defendant in that case, Tony Allen Roman Nose, who was 17 years old at the time of the crime, was convicted and sentenced under a state law requiring mandatory life in prison with no possibility of release for juveniles convicted of certain violent crimes.

Federal law limits no-parole life sentences for juveniles

A landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 established that mandatory no-parole life sentences for juveniles are a form of cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional. However, the Court's decision did not indicate whether the ban should be applied retroactively. As a result, it has been left to the states to address that question individually.

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court decision was handed down, Roman Nose appealed his sentence, seeking the possibility of parole. A judge in Washington County applied the U.S. Supreme Court ruling retroactively to Roman Nose's case and issued a new sentence that provided for life in prison with the possibility of parole in another 17 years, or 30 years from his original sentencing. However, the recent Minnesota Supreme Court ruling overturns that decision and reinstates the original sentence of life without parole.

States must decide whether ban applies retroactively

Although a handful of other states have interpreted the ban as applying retroactively, the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to do so in the recent case. This means that other prisoners who were sentenced in Minnesota to mandatory life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles will not be eligible for resentencing. However, this could still change in the future if the Minnesota Legislature passes a retroactive ban on mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders, or if the U.S. Supreme Court declares that its 2012 ruling should be applied retroactively.

The federal ban does not completely prohibit life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders, but only requires that those sentences cannot be mandatory. Thus, judges and juries still have the discretion to sentence some juvenile offenders to life in prison without the possibility of release if they determine it is appropriate to do so under the specific circumstances of the case.

Juvenile criminal defense in Minnesota

If your son or daughter has been charged with a criminal offense in Minnesota, it is very important that you seek help from an attorney with experience in juvenile criminal defense. A lawyer who is knowledgeable in this complex area of the law will work hard to keep your child's case in the juvenile justice system if at all possible. Regardless of whether your child is tried as a juvenile or as an adult, a skilled criminal defense lawyer can be a powerful advocate for your child's long-term interests and will fight on his or her behalf to minimize the impact of the charges.