When someone is convicted of a serious and violent crime in New Jersey, he or she may be looking at life in prison. Some sentences will even expressly prohibit an offender from the possibility of parole, meaning that the sentence he or she receives is the sentence he or she will serve. Even for those people in Newark who believe life sentences are a good way to deal with violent offenders, many of them may still question giving life sentences to those individuals convicted of violent juvenile crimes. After all, will all children who commit crimes grow up to be adults who commit crimes?
Perhaps it was this question that motivated the Supreme Court of the United States when it determined that it was a violation of the Eighth Amendment to sentence a minor to life without the chance of parole for any crime other than homicide. The Eighth Amendment protects against “cruel and unusual punishments.”
The Supreme Court has also said that subjecting any minor to an extremely long sentence, even if it is less than life, is a matter of constitutional scrutiny. Just throwing a minor in prison for long periods of time denies the child the ability to show law enforcement that he or she is capable of rejoining society.
This does not mean that there aren’t juveniles in New Jersey who are serving excessively long sentences or that the state will stop sentencing its youth to prison for 60 or 70 years. It does mean, however, that any juvenile accused of a violent crime must work with his or her criminal defense attorney to clear his or her name and escape a lifetime in prison.
Source: Sun Sentinel, “Lengthy prison sentences for juveniles under scrutiny,” Marc Freeman, July 14, 2013