Anyone under the age of 18, whether tried as a juvenile or adult, who is convicted of murder can no longer be sentenced to life without parole without consideration being given to his or her age and the nature of the crime. The Supreme Court recently held, in Miller v. Alabama, that mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders violate the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
There are more than 2,000 individuals, 25 in North Carolina, currently in prison, serving a life sentence without the chance for parole, who were under 18 when they committed their crime. Whether those individuals will have their sentences revisited and revised based on the Court’s interpretation of the 8th Amendment is unclear.
The Court has steadily improved sentencing protections for juvenile offenders. In 2005, it held that the death penalty was not an appropriate sentence for a minor convicted of murder. In 2010, the Court held that life without parole was not a constitutionally-acceptable sentence for minors who do not commit murder.
The Court’s most recent decision does not mean that juvenile offenders cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole if convicted of murder, but that the jury or judge must consider whether such a sentence is appropriate based on the circumstances. Life without parole can no longer be mandatory for juvenile offenders.
North Carolina had previously mandated life without parole for juveniles convicted of murder.
Source: WWAY, “US Supreme Court ruling affects NC sentencing laws,” Chris Phillips, June 25, 2012