It was long-awaited, but when it came, it left many men in disbelief.
‘It’ was a decision by Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court in the Com. V. Cunningham case.
The question posed was, is the Miller v. Alabama opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court, limiting the application of life sentences to juveniles, to be applied retroactively?
The PA Supreme Court decided recently that it does not.
Pennsylvania has more juvenile lifers than any other state, indeed, any other jurisdiction in the world.
Over 500 people were convicted as juveniles in stated courts, and sentenced to life terms.
Now, the PA Supreme Court has shut those gates – perhaps forever.
The Cunningham ruling was a 4-3 vote – meaning four in the majority and three in the minority.
And even the Chief Justice, Ron Castille, was critical of the US Supreme Court’s Miller majority opinion (while he made Cunningham’s majority by voting with them), for not squarely addressing retroactivity.
It is clear from reading the Miller case, that they were thinking of retroactivity, for the majority, concurring and dissenting opinions all address the 2,500 juvenile lifer cases across the country. If it didn’t apply to them, why address it?
But courts are ultimately political institutions, all the more so, when it’s elected courts.
Cunningham came just a few days before a statewide judicial retention election, in which two state Supreme Court justices are running for extended terms.
Remember the saying: “Law is simply politics by other means.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of people, some who were 13, 14, 15 or 16 when their crimes were committed, are sent back to eternity in a cage.