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After high court ruling, fate of 8 prior juvenile offenders hangs in balance

Parents with teenage sons or daughters can attest to the fact that this age group often acts on impulse and are highly influenced by friends. For some teens, aggressive and impulsive tendencies lead them to drink, use drugs and engage in reckless behaviors. When an individual is highly emotional and lacks the capacity to fully process or comprehend the consequences of their actions, if stressed or triggered, he or she may engage in violent and dangerous actions.

In many states, cases where juveniles are accused of carrying out violent crimes such as murder, the courts take a number of considerations into account prior to taking legal action or considering sentencing. In Minnesota, however, individuals convicted of murder under certain circumstances are subject to mandatory lifetime sentences with no chance of parole. These lifetime sentences apply regardless of an individual's age as long as he or she stood trial as an adult for the crime.

Facing a lifetime prison sentence with no chance of parole is a difficult reality for anyone to face. In cases where an individual was convicted of murder when he or she was only 15 or16 years old, life seems over before it even began.

During 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juvenile offenders who received mandatory lifetime sentences without parole would in fact become eligible for parole after serving a certain number of years of their sentence. In their decision, the Supreme Court contended that mandatory lifetime prison sentences for juveniles equated to “cruel and unusual punishment”, thereby violating the U.S. Constitution.

The court's decision helps prevent serious juvenile offenders from spending the rest of their lives behind bars for a crime that may have been committed at a time when they lacked the capacity to fully understand their actions and the permanence of those actions. Today in Minnesota, questions remain about the fate of eight individuals who were juveniles when they received mandatory lifetime sentences prior the Supreme Court's 2012 decision.

Some argue that, in light of the high court's decision, any changes made to Minnesota's existing lifetime sentencing laws should be retroactive to include the eight individuals. Others, however, believe any proposed changes should apply moving forward, but not retroactively.

Source: Star Tribune, "For the 8 serving life for teenage crimes, waiting game continues," Abby Simons, March 28, 2014

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