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Supreme Court pushes states to rethink sentencing for juveniles

The matter of ethical sentencing and what is cruel and unusual punishment is much debated. People will disagree on what is right and wrong in regards to criminal offenders, and that debate gets even more sensitive when juvenile offenders are involved.

Should those who are technically considered children face more protection in the eyes of our the U.S. crminal justice system? Could a sentence that might be serious but appropriate for a 40-year-old, for example, be cruel and unusual for a 16-year-old? The U.S. Supreme Court took this juvenile justice matter on last year, and its decision means states, including Colorado, have some work to do. 

Based on a case of a violent crime with a 16-year-old defendant, the court ruled that mandatory sentencing of life sentences without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional for juvenile offenders (those under 18). Some of the public may have misread the ruling as the actual sentencing of life without parole is unethical. However, the ruling is more specific and leaves more wiggle room for states.

The mandatory sentencing is what's no longer allowed. A teenager who is convicted of murder in Colorado could hypothetically still be sentenced to life in prison without a chance for parole. Due to the court's ruling, the difference is that now the court has to consider an individual defendant's background, condition and case before such a severe sentence can be determined.

It is up to Colorado and every other state to take the high court's decision and apply it as seen fit in their communities. They must decide whether they will allow the harsh sentencing of juveniles from here on out and whether they will apply their newfound perspectives of the matter to past cases of juvenile crimes.

USA Today reports that Colorado will likely address the criminal justice matter this fall. We will post an update when there is a related development.

Source: USA Today, "How will states handle juveniles sentenced to life without parole?" Maggie Clark, Aug. 26, 2013

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