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Will life with parole be possible for Philadelphia juveniles?


Many juveniles in Philadelphia are charged with crimes each year. The type of crime can vary dramatically, but for the most part they can be charged with the same types of crimes as adults. However, after they are charged, how the case is handled is different than how an adult's case is handled. The main difference is that there is a greater focus on rehabilitation in the juvenile law system than the adult system.

In that spirit, in 2012 the United States Supreme Court ruled that juveniles could not receive automatic life without parole sentences like adults could. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court issued another ruling that the 2012 decision should be applied retroactively. This means that even if a juvenile was sentenced to life without parole prior to 2012, the sentence was still unconstitutional.

There are currently approximately 300 people from Philadelphia serving life sentences without parole who were juveniles at the time the crime was committed. So, these people are filing motions to amend their sentence and allow them parole. However, Pennsylvania law does not allow a judge to sentence a person to life with parole. This puts Pennsylvania law at odds with the new case law from the U.S. Supreme Court. So, resentencing hearings may be needed for each one.

Due to the high number of potential cases, the prosecutors are concerned that they do not have the resources to handle all these cases at once and are asking the Judges to stay or dismiss all these motions.

As stated above, the juvenile law system in Philadelphia is different than the adult system and punishments are different as well. This is shown through the new decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. While there are differences, there are also some similarities such as the juvenile is innocent until proven guilty, and there may be defenses available to them after being charged.

Source: Philly.com, "Pa. courts scramble to catch up to juvenile-lifers decision" Samantha Melamed, Feb. 11, 2016

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