Opinion: Adolescents serving jail time without parole should be considered unconstitutional

By Silda Martinez

It is shockingly easy for an adolescent to be manipulated, due to the fact that their brain has not yet fully developed.

“Research on adolescent brain development confirms the common sense understanding that children are different from adults in ways that are critical to identifying age appropriate criminal sentences,” according to an article by The Sentencing Project. So how is it still fair for juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole when they have not even fully developed their adult brain? It’s simply not.

Lee Boyd Malvo was a 17 year old who was convicted for helping John Allen Muhammed murder 10 people during the DC sniper shooting. He was sentenced to life without parole by a Virginia judge.

“Malvo, who was allegedly brainwashed by Muhammad, now profoundly regrets his actions and seeks a new sentence under Montgomery,”  according to an article by Slate. In 2018, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Malvo did have a right to resentencing to determine rather his crimes reflected permanent incorrigibility.

“Juveniles are not as criminally culpable as adults and have a greater capacity to change, so required judges to consider as mitigating factors youth and its attendant characteristics, such as impulsivity, failure to appreciate risks or consequences and susceptibility to familial or peer pressure,” according to an article by Governing.

In the U.S. there are approximately 2,310 juveniles sentenced to life without parole.  Juveniles as young as 13 are sentenced to life in prison without any opportunity for release.

“For 59% of youth sentenced to life without parole, the charge was their first offense,” according to an article by Shared Justice. By sentencing juveniles to such harsh punishments on their first offense, the criminal justice system is not allowing any inherent differences between a youth and an adult.

In 2012 the Court barred mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles in all cases.

“Every case turned on the developing awareness that young people are ‘constitutionally different’ from adults — less in control of their emotions and more able to change over time — and should be punished differently,” according to an article by The New York Times.

Two court rulings, Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs cases, lead to the decision that juveniles could not be sentenced under any circumstances to life without parole for non homicide offenses. Even when convicted of murder, the court said a juvenile’s age must be considered into account along with other relevant circumstances.

The constitution prohibits mandatory juvenile without parole sentences as it violates the eighth amendment, especially when the sentence is determined before crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility, according to Slate. This forbids all juvenile without parole sentences unless prosecutors have proved permanent incorrigibility.

This does not go to say that juveniles do not deserve punishment for their

crimes. Of course they do, but due to the stage of life they are in, they should not get a second chance taken away.

The adolescent can use the time they serve as time for rehabilitation, to reflect back on the consequences of their crimes. During their rehabilitation time they still have that hope of being granted parole and being able to show their change and regret toward the crime they committed.

Being sentenced without parole should be reserved solely for those uncommon cases where the  juvenile offender truly exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible.

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