It goes without saying that kids make mistakes. Sometimes, these mistakes are relatively minor while other times these mistakes have landed the juvenile in legal hot water, where they were punished harshly. However, according to the current federal case law, courts must not sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole. The case that gives us that law is also applicable to juveniles who have previously been sentenced to life in prison for murder. In Arizona, there are 34 juveniles already serving life without parole who will now need to be resentenced. However, it remains to be seen how this law will be logistically applied in future cases.
Some issues this law presents are regarding the standards already set for the sentencing of juveniles. Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that, when considering a life sentence, the court should treat juveniles different from adults, as juveniles are developmentally less mature and are better able to change their ways in the future.
However, the state of Arizona failed to commute the sentences of the 34 juveniles serving life terms into indeterminate-life sentences. Therefore, the resentencing for these individuals must be done individually. It must be determined whether the juvenile is either immature but capable of growth or whether the juvenile is irreparably depraved. Unfortunately, there is not much in the way of credible means to prove whether a juvenile is able (or unable) to change in the future.
The availability of legal help is also an issue for the 74 individuals in Arizona who were given sentences of 25 years to life. The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency now has the ability to release these individuals if eligible, but these individuals may not have access to an attorney who can help them argue to the board that they should be released.
It is hoped that in the future, juveniles affected by these requirements will have access to public criminal defense attorneys, as adults in capital cases do. Those who have questions about how current LWOP laws apply to juveniles are encouraged to discuss the matter with their juvenile defense attorney.
Source: Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, “Arizona, Other States Need Resentencing Guidelines for JLWOP Youth,” Jose B. Ashford, Nov. 8, 2017