Minnesotans may have heard that people whose crimes were committed when they were minors and who were subsequently tried as adults and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole are receiving resentencing hearings. Some of these juvenile lifers are being given sentences carrying the possibility of parole. The reasons for these resentencing hearings is a change in the understanding of the brain development of young people along with a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a life without the possibility of parole sentence for a juvenile amounts to cruel and unusual punishment if no consideration is given to certain factors. The ruling did not mean that juvenile offenders can never be given these sentences, but it did mean that judges and juries must consider a number of factors before one is handed down.
Judges and juries are supposed to consider the developmental levels of the offenders, their ages, their rehabilitation potentials and their level of involvement in their crimes before they can find that such sentences are appropriate. People already serving such sentences are able to request resentencing hearings so that judges can evaluate their cases according to the outlined factors.
When minors are facing serious juvenile crime charges, they might benefit by seeking help from experienced criminal defense attorneys who may work to keep their clients’ cases in juvenile court instead of being transferred into the adult criminal court system. The focus of the juvenile justice system is generally rehabilitative in nature while the adult system is more punitive, carrying the potential for lengthy incarceration.