Supreme Court bans mandatory life-without-parole for juveniles

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A U.S. Supreme Court ruling banning mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles could be good news for a Wisconsin prison inmate.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Elena Kagan, says life with parole sentences for juveniles prevent judges from considering a juvenile’s age as a factor that lessens their culpability, and that their youth increases their capacity for change through rehabilitation.

Attorney Bryan Stevenson argued the case for two young men from Arkansas and Alabama. He also argued a case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court for Omer Ninham, who was 14 when he killed a 13 year old boy in Green Bay in 1998. Stevenson says while Wisconsin’s law does not call for mandatory life without parole, this week’s ruling opens the door for Ninham to get a reduced sentence: “It’s certainly our view that none of these cases really provided the kind of individualized sentencing that the court now has constitutionally mandated, so even in cases like that we believe that resentencing and review is required.”

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The Wisconsin Council of Children and Families also argued on behalf of Omer Ninham. Jim Moeser of WCCF says he would have liked to see a more expansive ruling that made clear that children shouldn’t be given adult sentences: “Life without parole in certain circumstances, even in a homicide case, does not make sense for younger kids. But this is a step forward. I’m not sure it’s as far as many of us would want to go. I know it’s not as far as many of us would want to go.”

It’s now up to state courts across the country to begin a review process and re-sentence people to shorter prison terms who otherwise were destined to die in prison.

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