Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its Montgomery v. Louisiana decision, ruled that its earlier 2012 ruling in the Miller v. Alabama case, (limiting life sentences when it came to juvenile defendants) was indeed retroactive and thus applied to all under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed.
At least four states (Michigan, Minnesota, Florida and Pennsylvania) determined that Miller wasn’t retroactive, a decision that affected more people in Pennsylvania than any other state.
That’s because Pennsylvania has more juvenile lifers than any other state in the Union. As a matter of fact, Pennsylvania has more juvenile lifers than any other jurisdiction on earth.
More than China.
More that Russia.
More than Saudi Arabia.
And why is this so? Are kids in Pennsylvania more vile, more devilish than kids anywhere else on the planet?
I don’t think so, but perhaps their political leaders are.
The same might be said for State judges — and justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, I might add — who seem to have been busy sending smut to each other, and to their colleagues in the State Attorney General’s office — too busy to care about juvenile lifers, apparently.
In October, 2013, the PA Supreme Court, voting 4-3, decided its Com. V. Cunningham case. And determined that Miller didn’t apply to the almost 500 men who were juveniles when their crimes were committed.
Amazingly, the Cunningham majority cited Miller’s dissenting opinion ( the view of the Miller court’s minority) to announce that “determining the appropriate sentence for a teenager convicted of murder presents grave and challenging questions of morality and social policy” [558, citing Miller, 132 S.ct. at 2477].
By citing the dissent, the Cunningham court ignored the central holding of Miller: that “children are different”.
Attorney Marc Bookman, director of the Philadelphia-based Atlantic Center for capital Representation has called The Roper, Graham, Miller and Montgomery lines of cases a “juvenile revolution” in law; and so it is.
But the Pennsylvania courts seem hell-bent on staging a counter-revolution, to reflect the political views of politicians who have wrought this long war against the young, like Clintonian former DA and later, Governor, Edward Rendell, and former Governor Tom Ridge, and the many politicians who built more prisons than schools, and fueled the dead-end phenomenon of mass incarceration.
Back in the 1990s, conservative scholars launched into a mad tangent against juveniles, with some notables warning about the sinister rise of the so-called ‘super-predators’ — Black and brown kids hyped on crack, wilding on society, attacking them – eating them, it seemed.
But such nightmares never materialized, for they were based on little more than racist fears and fantasies.
Today there are no super-predators (that is unless you count the politicians, judges and scholars who preyed on the young)