Tips for Getting Through a Divorce With the Right Lawyer

New Lease On Life: Ban On Sentencing Juveniles To Life Without Parole Applied Retroactively

When juveniles commit serious crimes like murder, it's not unusual for prosecutors to seek and obtain life without parole sentences for them. In 2012, the Supreme Court decided that forcing minors to spend their entire lives behind bars represents cruel and unusual punishment and abolished the practice. However, it was uncertain whether this decision applied to cases that were prosecuted prior to 2012. Recently, the Supreme Court confirmed that people sentenced to life without parole as juveniles are eligible for relief under the new rule. Here's more information about this development.

Montgomery v. Louisiana

Because of the uncertainty surrounding whether the 2012 ban on sentencing juveniles to life in prison was to be applied retroactively, some individual states determined prisoners who had already been convicted were not eligible to have their sentences changed. Henry Montgomery, who had been jailed when he was 17 years old, sued the state of Louisiana after the Louisiana Supreme Court determined the ban by the US Supreme Court did not apply to people who were already serving their terms.

On January 25, 2016, the US Supreme Court sided with Montgomery and opened the door for other people in similar circumstances to potentially have their sentences commuted and even released early, depending on the specifics of their cases and conduct while in jail.

Getting a New Sentence

To take advantage of this change in the law, you must apply to have your sentence reevaluated. The exact legal procedure required to get this process started varies depending on where you were convicted and sentenced. In California, prisoners who feel they qualify to have their sentences changed under the new law must file a petition for recall and resentencing with the court. In Maryland, you would need to submit a motion for modification of sentence.

The most important thing to know about getting a life-without-parole sentence modified is you must prove to the court you were capable of being rehabilitated when you were sentenced. The idea behind this requirement is that the court doesn't want to set someone free who feels no remorse for their actions and/or who may be at risk of re-offending if released from jail. For instance, a teenaged serial killer who showed no empathy for the victims or who displayed sociopathic tendencies at the time he or she was convicted might not qualify for a sentence reevaluation.

However, the court may take defendants' activities and behavior in the years since they were sentenced into consideration. For instance, one judge allowed a man who was convicted of fatally shooting another teenager when he was 16 years old to present testimony about rehabilitation activities he participated in while in jail.

Be aware, though, that not every judge may allow this. A woman who had been in prison for 20 years was told she could only use evidence from her childhood to demonstrate she had the potential to be rehabilitated, even though there were numerous people ready to testify on her behalf about the work she'd done on herself since she was convicted. Eventually, a different court determined she should be granted another hearing.

Individual states may have additional requirements that must be fulfilled before your sentence is modified or to be approved for a hearing to consider changing your jail term. Maryland requires defendants to have filed a motion for modification within 90 days of being sentenced reserving the right to request their sentences be changed at a later date. If they failed to file this paperwork, the court may deny their current petition to have their jail time modified.

Getting a sentence modified can be challenging. Consult a criminal defense attorney for advice and assistance with taking advantage of this newest legal development.