With more juvenile lifers in prison than any other state, Pennsylvania lawmakers are taking the first steps to consider what changes are needed in state law now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down laws that require juveniles convicted of homicide to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, reports the Scranton Times-Tribune. The high court decision in June declared mandatory sentencing laws for those juveniles in Pennsylvania and 28 other states unconstitutional as violations of the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Pennsylvania has 480 juvenile lifers behind bars, nearly 20 percent of the nearly 2,500 juveniles serving life sentences in the United States. Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola said the law is unclear as to how courts would go about resentencing the convicted killers. “There’s got to be some guidance,” he said. “It doesn’t really give us guidance on what should be done.” One issue awaiting resolution is whether the court ruling will lead to retroactive parole hearings for the 480 juvenile lifers. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has scheduled legal arguments Sept. 12 in Philadelphia on the issue.