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Pennsylvania May Suspend Life Sentences for Juvenile Offenders

Pennsylvania is still grappling with how to interpret the United State Supreme Court’s recent landmark ruling in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment.

The main question is whether the ruling should be applied retroactively to include the 470 people across Pennsylvania now serving mandatory life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. That’s more than any other state.

Not surprisingly, criminal defense organizations support retroactivity while prosecutors oppose it.

Many prosecutors even go so far as saying that Miller v. Alabama does not abolish mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders. Instead, they say, such sentences may be given but only after there is a special sentencing hearing similar to those given in death row cases.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court hears arguments on these issues this week.