A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

Pennsylvania high court rules juvenile murderers not entitled to resentencing

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that juvenile murderers who were subject to mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole will not be resentenced if their cases were final before June 2012. The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] last year in Miller v. Alabama that the Eighth Amendment [text], a bar on the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment, "forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders." Applying this precedent to the case of Ian Cunningham, a man serving life in prison [Morning Call report] for a murder he committed when he was 17 years old, the Pennsylvania high court held that the Supreme Court's holding does not apply retroactively to cases in which judgments of sentence for prisoners were final as of the time of the Miller decision. As a result, the sentences of juvenile murderers who have run out of appeals as of June 2012 will be sustained.

There has been much commentary written on this issue both before and after [JURIST comments] the Miller decision. The case was heard in conjunction with Jackson v. Hobbs [SCOTUSblog backgrounder]. During arguments before in Supreme Court regarding Miller, Justice Antonin Scalia asked, "What's the distinction between 14 and 15? ... How are we to know where to draw those lines?" Later, Miller's attorney called for 18 to be the minimum age needed to impose a life sentence, and pointed out that most of the jurisdictions that have considered the issue in a legislative context have adopted an age 18 minimum for mandatory life sentences. He offered that those jurisdictions that permitted the imposition of mandatory life-sentences did so through a regime that transferred juveniles to the adult criminal justice system where they are exposed to mandatory life sentences, not because of the express will of the people or their legislators to impose mandatory life sentences on juvenile offenders.

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.