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Criminal Justice

A Right to Review

By Amy Brown
26 Jan 2016

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that minors convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment have a right to argue that they be released from prison. This 2012 decision was ruled to apply retroactively, as it was considered a significant change to the law. The court ruled 6 to 3 on applying the law retroactively; the 2012 case had been decided 5 to 4.

The 2012 Miller ruling, which was made retroactive with this ruling, cited that states violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the constitution when they sentence minors to life imprisonment without a chance for sentence review, even for very serious crimes. Since minors’ brains are not yet fully developed, they do not have the same level of culpability that adults do. Therefore, they can be rehabilitated and should be allowed to argue for release back into society. The case was brought by Henry Montgomery, who shot and killed a sheriff’s deputy in 1963; he believes his prison rehabilitation should make him eligible for parole. Justice Kennedy wrote in the opinion: “Prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.” The ruling does not guarantee new sentences for all prisoners in this situation, but merely provides the right for a court to review a case and potentially grant parole.

The dissent against the ruling was grounded in the Supreme Court’s lack of jurisdiction in the manner, saying that it was an issue for the states, according to Justice Scalia. The decision also continues a trend of treating minors convicted of even very serious crimes differently than adults, which has been an issue with many mixed responses and views.

Is it ethical for minors convicted of serious crimes to have a right to review? Should minors convicted of murder still be treated differently than adults?

Amy graduated from DePauw University in 2017, and was a Hillman Intern and the Digital Media Assistant Managing Editor at the Prindle Institute for Ethics. At DePauw, she was an Honor Scholar and Political Science major with a Russian studies minor. She has spent time abroad in the Czech Republic and now works in Washington, D.C.
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