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SCOTUS rulings signal new approach to juvenile sentencing

On Behalf of | Aug 3, 2017 | Juvenile Defense

Juveniles facing criminal charges in Virginia could benefit from changing approaches to the sentencing of youthful offenders. Two rulings from the Supreme Court of the United States have shifted the emphasis from extreme punishment of juvenile criminal offenders to one of rehabilitation.

In 2005, the country’s highest court decided that the death penalty was never appropriate for people under the age of 18. Then in 2010, the Supreme Court established that a murder conviction presented the only reason for sentencing a juvenile person to life without parole.

Neurological research of the young brain has softened the impulse to punish young people harshly. The adolescent brain controls impulsive behavior poorly and teenagers do not always grasp the consequences of their reckless actions. Warnings about young super predators in the 1990s that led to long sentences have been discredited. Legislators in multiple states have come to recognize that most countries do not impose lifelong sentences on young people, which has increasingly led to criminal justice reforms. Several states have begun allowing people serving long sentences for juvenile convictions to approach parole boards and seek new sentences.

When police arrest a young person for an alleged crime, the person or the person’s family could seek legal representation. An attorney could prepare a juvenile defense and guide the accused young person through the criminal justice system. If the young person admitted to a crime, then the attorney could review the circumstances of the alleged confession. Young people succumb to interrogation pressure easily even when they did not do the criminal act, and an attorney might expose this and get the charges dropped. Reasons such as limited participation in a crime or the young person’s lack of understanding of the situation might also enable an attorney to negotiate a lenient sentence.