Juvenile lifers will get new sentences, but what law applies?

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481 juvenile lifers across Pennsylvania—300 of them from Philadelphia alone—will receive new sentencing hearings following the 2016 Supreme Court ruling in Montgomery v. Louisiana. But the courts are now grappling to determine what sentencing law applies to this unprecedented ruling, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on March 11.

After the Miller v. Alabama decision in 2012, the state created new sentencing procedures for juveniles convicted of murder: 25 years to life for those younger than 15, and 35 to life for those 15 to 17. But that law excluded anyone whose sentence was final before the Miller decision.

Now the law must find a way to determine resentencing guidelines that fit the juvenile lifers to be given a second chance. And making new laws is not so easy.

“The problem is, even if we pass something, it would be ex post facto,” or retroactive, said State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, a Montgomery County Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, in the Inquirer. “I don’t think the legislature can do anything at this point, because it could be unconstitutional what we do.”

Marsha Levick, chief counsel at the Juvenile Law Center, said no new law is needed. The state should move to resentence juveniles to 20 to 40 years in prison, which is the punishment for third-degree murder, Levick said to the Inquirer.

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