Law Office of Tim Powers
Juvenile Law Mandatory Sentences Barred
Murder is a horrible, heinous crime. All agree to that. Prior to this week,
28 states had laws on their books that mandated to sentencing juvenile
offenders to life in prison without parole.
The issue is that the justice system views juvenile offenders as too young
and tender to appreciate the consequences of these crimes. In other words
they cannot fully understand and comprehend their actions and the resulting
circumstances that they have made because of their actions. Justice Elena
Kagan, who wrote the opinion for the Supreme Court, stated "Children
are different" then adult offenders when it comes to crime and punishment.
The cases before the court concerned two 14-year-old boys one from Alabama
and one from Arkansas.
On Monday, June 25, 2012, in the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision (Kagan,
Bader-Ginsburg, Breyer, Kennedy & Sotomayor for the Majority and CJ
Roberts, Alito, Scalia & Thomas for the Dissent), the court struck
down the mandatory life sentence scheme for juvenile offenders. The Majority's
opinion shows that mandatory life sentences for juveniles are cruel and
unusual punishment even if it occurred to over 2,000 US citizens (which
doesn't seem unusual) nor does it forbid life terms for youths convicted
of homicide. This opinion will not release any one person from prison,
or automatically grant anyone a new parole hearing. However, it does create
a need to resentence a lot of juvenile offenders.
The Supreme Court followed the reasoning of Mary Barthelme whose work was
instrumental in establishing the USA's first Juvenile Court system
in 1899 in Cook County, Illinois (Chicago) and other early advocates for
juvenile justice. These proponents of juvenile justice come at crime and
punishment for children from the angle of rehabilitation and not punishment.
Punishment is still meted out for juvenile offenders; however, the focus
is on making the child offender into a productive citizen and not to simply
remove them from civilized society. The basic premise is that these offenders
are immature and less deserving of the country's harshest punishment.
The Supreme Court has been moving in this direction since 2005 when they
struck down the death penalty for juvenile offenders. Then, two years
ago the Supreme Court invalidated laws that sentenced children to life
without parole for crimes that were less serious than murder.
In a justice system that deals in mandatory life sentences, the "whys"
of a crime's occurrence are not dealt with by the court, only the
"hows" of the crimes are presented to the trial judge or jury.
Justice Kagan in a footnote stated that life sentences can still be handed
down to the most heinous of the juvenile offenders, however those sentences
cannot be mandatory. The justice system must make accommodations for the
juvenile offenders to present mitigation for the circumstances surrounding
their crimes. That means that they can explain why these crimes occurred
and not merely dispute how these crimes occurred. Judges need to consider
factors such as juveniles are less culpable, less responsible for their
actions and they're immature compared to adults. Judges also need
to consider the context of their homes and the environment in which they grew up.
This reasoning is in agreement with the very first proponents' view
of juvenile offenders and their crimes. Children now have a better chance
of receiving a sentence that is rehabilitative in scope and not merely
For more information on the aggressive representation of criminal attorneys
in Denton County and the Law Offices of Tim Powers call us at 940.580.2899.
The criminal law firm attorneys practice in Juvenile Law as well as all
other areas of criminal law.
If you are seeking aggressive criminal representation by an experienced
criminal defense attorney for your Denton County juvenile case or arrest
in Denton County, contact the offices of Tim Powers today. There is no
charge or obligation for the initial consultation. 940.580.2899.
*Tim Powers is an attorney licensed to practice law by the Supreme Court
of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For
legal advice about any specific legal question you should directly consult