About 80 convicted Illinois murderers sentenced to mandatory life terms for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18 can re-argue their sentences in court, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled yesterday, says the Chicago Sun-Times. Some of them may eventually gain release. The ruling builds on a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case that declared mandatory life sentences issued to children a “cruel and unusual” form of punishment and thus unconstitutional. Left undecided at that time was whether the ruling applied to old cases. The unanimous Illinois Supreme Court opinion said that in Illinois, at least, the high court's ruling does in fact apply to old cases.
The decision frustrated Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins and other advocates for victims' families, many of whom sat through difficult court hearings years ago. A teenager now in prison shot her pregnant sister and brother-in-law to death in 1990. Now families will have to go back to court to face convicted murderers and relive a painful chapter from the past. Others hailed the ruling. “Our society, our legal system and the highest court in the county believe that redemption has value,” said Shobha Mahadev of the Illinois Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Children. “Particularly young people have an immense capacity to change and become rehabilitated.”