Juveniles may face the same sentences, including life imprisonment, as adults for serious crimes such as homicide. Some courts have questioned these punishments.
The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly found that juveniles should not be held to the same criminal accountability standards as adults. Juveniles, according to the Supreme Court, are more susceptible to another person’s influence and have not fully developed intellectually, morally and emotionally.
The Supreme Court struck down juvenile sentences of life without parole for crimes except murder. Imposition of mandatory sentences of life without parole was not allowed for juveniles convicted of any crime. In 2016, the court ruled that this decision should apply retroactively to persons serving these sentences. It earlier ruled that the death penalty could not be imposed as a sentence upon juveniles.
These elements were an important factor in a recent federal court ruling in Virginia concerning the case of Lee Boyd Malvo. He was sentenced to life prison sentence for his participation in the random, lethal sniper attacks in Maryland and Virginia committed by John Allen Muhammad.
He was 17 at the time these crimes were committed and was influenced by the 41-year-old Muhammad, who made incredible promises and justifications for these crimes. Malvo subsequently expressed remorse for his crimes and admitted his immaturity.
The federal court judge ruled that his sentences should be reconsidered because of these Supreme Court rulings issued after Malvo’s trials. He also cited a 2012 Supreme Court ruling requiring courts to consider whether a juvenile’s crimes are evidence of irreversible corruption or youth’s passing immaturity.
Virginia law enforcement authorities are appealing this ruling. He may still be resentenced to life imprisonment. He also faces prosecution for homicide charges in other states.
In Maryland, Malvo was also sentenced to six consecutive life sentences with the possibility of parole. Arguments were presented in Montgomery County earlier this month seeking to overturn these sentences. However, Maryland does not require sentences of life without parole for juveniles.
Juveniles arrested for serious crimes should seek legal assistance to assure that their rights are protected. An attorney can help assure that any criminal sentence or plea agreement does not conflict with constitutional rights.
Source: The Baltimore Sun, “Lee Boyd Malvo and the case against juvenile life sentences,” June 14, 2017