Few life without parole sentences for juveniles will change as the result of last week’s Supreme Court decision banning mandatory application of such sentences, says Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers. Writing on the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, Jenkins says retroactive application of the high court’s ruling will be challenged in many cases. Jenkins urges state legislatures to make life without parole sentences optional, meaning that judges may still impose them. “Many will do just that,” Jenkins says.
After the legal tussles shake out, Jenkins asserts, “many victims' families may only have to undergo only ONE additional proceeding with the killer — a new sentencing hearing replacing the mandatory life sentence with what will likely be a virtually equally serious alternative.” While any encounter with the offender in a courtroom will be re-traumatizing for victims families, she says, they will have a right in all 50 states and in federal courts to be notified of these proceedings, to be present, and to make a statement about the impact that the crime had on them before the new sentence is given. Jenkins notes that no Supreme Court justice voted to make all life sentences for teen killers unconstitutional.