Dashing hope for hundreds of juvenile offenders serving mandatory life sentences in Pennsylvania prisons, the state Supreme Court ruled that a landmark decision banning the penalty does not apply to those who have run out of appeals, reports the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that automatically sentencing juvenile killers to life in prison without parole is cruel and unusual punishment.
In some cases, the decision means new sentences and hope for freedom. Voting 4-3 yesterday, Pennsylvania’s highest court said the Supreme Court case does not apply to offenders whose sentences have become final. The decision upholds the sentence of Ian Cunningham, a man serving life in prison for a murder he committed when he was 17. It also affects as many as 450 Pennsylvania inmates. Ultimately, the question will have to be decided by the federal courts, and may end up back before the U.S. Supreme Court, said Kimberly Makoul, an Allentown attorney who represents Joseph Romeri, who is 35 years into a life sentence for bludgeoning a woman to death when he was 16. Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, said the Pennsylvania high court’s decision misses the ethical importance of the federal decision.