Juvenile – life sentence for murder wins high court reprieve

Juvenile

Juvenile Lifers

WASHINGTON — Juvenile –  The Supreme Court offered a chance for freedom Monday to hundreds of convicted juvenile murderers given mandatory sentences of life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles.

The justices ruled 6-3 that child killers locked away for life as long as a half century ago deserve the same consideration as those under 18 who commit murders today. The court ruled in 2012 that mandatory life sentences for juveniles violated the Constitution.

The decision means that as many as 1,500 prisoners, some convicted when they were as young as 13, can seek reduced sentences or apply for parole. States retain the right to uphold life sentences, but they no longer can be mandatory.

Most of those affected are consolidated in a few states — notably Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania. They are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes some of them committed decades ago when they were teenagers.

 

“Allowing those offenders to be considered for parole ensures that juveniles whose crimes reflected only transient immaturity — and who have since matured — will not be forced to serve a disproportionate sentence in violation of the Eighth Amendment,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court’s 6-3 majority. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s liberal bloc.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. Scalia said the decision, while preserving states’ ability to declare a prisoner “incorrigible” and deserving of his sentence, was “a devious way of eliminating life without parole for juvenile offenders.”

“In Godfather fashion, the majority makes state legislatures an offer they can’t refuse: Avoid all the utterly impossible nonsense we have prescribed by simply ‘permitting juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole,'” Scalia wrote. “Mission accomplished.”

 

The case focused on 69-year-old Henry Montgomery, who murdered a deputy sheriff in Louisiana in 1963 while playing hooky from school. He was 17 at the time and was sentenced to death before having his fate reduced to life without parole in 1970. After being sent to the state penitentiary at Angola, one of the most dangerous in the country, Montgomery helped start a boxing team, worked in the silkscreen department and counseled other inmates.

“Henry Montgomery has spent each day of the past 46 years knowing he was condemned to die in prison,” Kennedy said. While the state still can attempt to show that he deserves that fate, Kennedy added, “prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.”

The case is a logical extension of the high court’s juvenile justice jurisprudence. In 2005, it barred the death penalty for those whose crimes were committed before they turned 18. In 2010, it prohibited life without parole for crimes other than homicides. Then in 2012, it blocked all future mandatory life sentences, even for murder.

Since then, it’s been left to state courts or legislatures to decide whether the mandatory sentences of those previously locked away for life should be reconsidered. Hundreds of them were imprisoned in the 1980s and ’90s, when the battle against juvenile crime peaked; some date back to the 1950s.  Fourteen state supreme courts have said the 2012 ruling applies retroactively. Seven others, as well as four federal appeals courts, have said it does not.

Mark Plaisance, who argued Montgomery’s case, called the verdict “just the first step in a long process for Mr. Montgomery.”

“Today’s decision simply provides an opportunity for review,” he said. “It is our hope that state courts will now follow the lead of our highest court and the majority of other states around the country and give those convicted of crimes as youth a chance to become productive citizens.”

USA Today

SEXTING

Sexting

Don’t underestimate the consequences of SEXTING

Call or text Steven C. Townsend for a FREE CONSULTATION. 412-901-7352

A conviction for teen sexting or child pornography can have extremely serious consequences. If you or your child is charged with such a crime as a result of teen sexting, you should contact Pittsburgh Attorney Steven C. Townsend, He has the experience handling these types of cases in juvenile and criminal court. Only an experienced criminal defense attorney can provide you with appropriate legal advice and inform you of the potential consequences of a conviction, including under what circumstances juvenile defendants may be required to register as sex offenders. Steven C. Townsend can tell you what to expect in court and help to you prepare the strongest possible defense.

Sexting is the sending of nude or suggestive photographs by text message, and, when teenagers do it, it can be illegal. Pennsylvania lawmakers have enacted a specific law that makes teen sexting a crime, but a less serious one than child pornography. However, depending on the circumstances, teen sexting could also be considered child pornography or obscenity.

Prior to the enactment of Pennsylvania’s teen sexting law, one case there received a lot of media attention. School officials discovered that students had been exchanging photos of nude and scantily clad teen girls and notified the local District Attorney. He met with the parents of the girls depicted in the photos and told them that the girls would have to participate in a diversionary program or face charges for possessing and distributing child pornography. The girls’ parents refused the diversion program, noting that the photos (one featuring a topless girl and another depicting two girls in their bras) were not pornographic and that the girls were the victims of someone else distributing the pictures. After the families sued, a federal court found that the proposed diversion program violated the girls’ and their parent’s constitutional rights and granted a restraining order to stop the prosecutor from pressing charges against the girls.

(Miller v. Skumanick, 605 F. Supp. 2d 634, 647 (M.D. Pa. 2009), aff’d sub nom. Miller v. Mitchell, 598 F.3d 139 (3d Cir. 2010).)

Punishment

Teen sexting. Teen sexting cases are often handled in juvenile court, where judges typically have greater discretion as to the outcome than they do in adult criminal court. Teens who possess images of other teens or who share images of themselves can be convicted of summary offenses. Summary offenses are punishable by up to 90 days in a jail and a fine of up to $300. The court may refer the teen to a diversionary program that includes an educational program about the consequences of sexting. If the teen successfully completes the program, the charges are expunged.

Sharing a teen sext depicting another person is a misdemeanor of the third degree, punishable by up to one year in jail and no more than $2,500 in fines. It is a misdemeanor of the second degree (punishable by up to two years’ incarceration and no more than $5,000 in fines) for a teen to share a sext of another teen without permission and in order to harass the child depicted. Under the teen sexting law, any cell phone or electronic communication device involved can be forfeited (taken by the state without compensation to the owner).