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U.S. Supreme Court ruling calls for review of juvenile life without parole sentences

scales of justiceThe U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that juveniles serving life sentences without parole are eligible for a re-sentencing hearing in light of a 2012 high court ruling that deemed such sentences unconstitutional.

The 6-3 decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana extends the court’s thoughts put forth in Miller v. Alabama in 2012 that mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences "violate . . . the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.” Today’s decision makes Miller retroactive, and calls for juveniles who are serving such sentences to be offered a re-sentencing hearing or parole.

“Extending parole eligibility to juvenile offenders does not impose an onerous burden on the States, nor does it disturb the finality of state convictions,” the court wrote. “Those prisoners who have shown an inability to reform will continue to serve life sentences. The opportunity for release will be afforded to those who demonstrate the truth of Miller’s central intuition—that children who commit even heinous crimes are capable of change.”

The decision mirrors a ruling handed down by the Illinois Supreme Court in March 2014 that called for Adolfo Davis, who was sentenced to mandatory life without parole for crimes he committed as a juvenile, to receive a new sentencing hearing. The Catholic Conference of Illinois earlier in 2014 joined with other faith-based organizations in an amicus brief to the Davis case, pointing out that the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller noted that juveniles lack maturity, are far more impressionable than adults, and still have the capacity to change.

Davis has spent more than 20 years behind bars for participating in a robbery that ended up killing two people. He was 14 when he committed the crime in which he never fired a shot. However, Davis has accepted responsibility for his actions, attained his General Education Diploma, and works with a Catholic priest to deter at-risk children from criminal activity. Cardinal George of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2011 wrote Gov. Pat Quinn, asking him to commute Davis' sentence.

Davis received a re-sentencing hearing in May 2015, at which he was again sentenced to life in prison.

However, today’s ruling solidifies Illinois’ commitment to re-sentencing hearings for the approximately 100 inmates serving life without parole sentences for murders they committed as juveniles.