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Should any juvenile crime still carry a life sentence?

Consider the following statistic: Today, more than 1,500 people in the United States are serving life sentences for crimes they committed when they were younger than 18. This statistic is startling in itself, but some people in California might want to know more. Namely, does the punishment fit the crime? 

The answer to that question, of course, will vary depending on the perspective and beliefs of the person asked to consider it. However, some say the real question should focus less on the crime and more on the age -- and developmental state -- of the person accused of committing it.

Over the past several years, there have been numerous court cases questioning a life prison sentence should even be an option for juveniles -- those younger than 18. Citing a growing amount of scientific evidence, some argue that teenagers are still developing as people. This, they say, is reason enough to take life sentences off the table.

Anyone who knows a teenager knows that there are certain defining characteristics of people at this age. They are often immature and don't always think carefully about risks and their potential consequences. For many teenagers who end up in the criminal justice system, a difficult home life can make things even worse.

In 2005, a significant court ruling made it impossible for a juvenile to ever receive the death penalty. Seven years later, the court also took life sentences without the possibility of parole off the table. Now, the question comes down to whether the second ruling can be applied retroactively.

Recently, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that should determine just that. At the heart of the case is a man who received a sentence of life without parole for a crime he committed more than 50 years ago -- when he was 17.

Each of the cases that hope to reform the juvenile sentencing procedures is focused on the argument that these children should always be given a chance at reform. It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court rules on the matter.

Source: Pacific Standard, "Reconsidering Juvenile Life Sentences -- Again," Lauren Kirchner, March 26, 2015

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Former Criminal Prosecutor With Proven Results