The U.S. Supreme Court issued another landmark ruling recently when it announced, in Montgomery V. Louisiana, that life imprisonment without parole was unconstitutional for juvenile prisoners, and that they should be granted new sentences or parole eligibility, in accord with the U.S. Constitution.
In a 6-3 decision, the Court extended its ruling from other cases, specifically the 2012 Miller V. Alabama decision, by making it retroactive and applicable to the states.
The recent Montgomery opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, was joined by the Chief Justice, John Roberts, as well as other associated justices from what is considered its more liberal wing.
And while a 6 person court formed a majority, the 3 remaining justices fought it bitterly. Justice Antonin Scalia ridiculed the majority’s ‘sleight of hand’ decision-making, a case of the Latin term ‘ipse dixit’ they said it, and it is so.’
But Montgomery rides in on a string of recent precedents, all limiting the exposure of juvenile prisoners to harsh sentences, because, as children, they’ve not reached the age of majority, and are intrinsically, not possessed of maturity.
The Montgomery decision means that juvenile lifers (the majority of which are in Pennsylvania, by the way), now have a chance of leaving prison one day, by parole or resentencing.
Pennsylvania is distinct from many other states because it carries life sentences for first, second, and third degree, (under some conditions), murder.
When I was back in the infirmary, a man named Nash (I hope he’ll forgive me for using his name), was entering his 7th decade of life. He was arrested as a teenager. Today, he has spent over 55 years in prison.
When he got arrested, Dwight D. Eisenhower was President!
His body has failed him. A wheelchair is his only way to move; and his strength ebbs daily.
Pennsylvania has more juvenile lifers than any other jurisdiction in the world: over 500!
Today, some of that number can dream again.
They’d better hurry — before the door shuts again.