Some lifers sen­tenced as minors re­quest­ing new jail terms

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY JULIET LINDERMAN

BAL­TI­MORE | Roughly a dozen peo­ple are serv­ing life terms in prison with­out the pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role in Mary­land for crimes they com­mit­ted as ju­ve­niles, and nearly all of them are ask­ing for new sen­tences in light of U.S. Supreme Court de­ci­sions that say sen­tenc­ing teenagers to die in prison is un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Since a land­mark rul­ing bar­ring manda­tory life with­out pa­role for ju­ve­niles was made retroac­tive in 2016, the sen­tences of four lifers in Mary­land have been tossed, and each is await­ing a re­sen­tenc­ing hearing.

Mo­tions for new hear­ings in Mary­land courts are more com­plex than sim­i­lar le­gal bat­tles be­ing waged in many other states. That’s be­cause, ac­cord­ing to the bi­par­ti­san Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tors, Mary­land is among more than 20 states where judges aren’t man­dated to hand down life-with­out-pa­role sen­tences for cer­tain of­fenses but may do so if they choose.

Such dis­cre­tionary sen­tences aren’t ex­plic­itly cov­ered un­der the Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion, pros­e­cu­tors have ar­gued.

The high court cites a grow­ing body of re­search show­ing that the brains of ado­les­cents are still de­vel­op­ing, mak­ing them sus­cep­ti­ble to peer pres­sure and like­lier to com­mit reck­less acts with­out con­sid­er­ing the long-term im­pact.

To pun­ish youths with the same sever­ity as adults and to then make those sen­tences manda­tory — tak­ing away dis­cre­tion to weigh each of­fender in­di­vid­u­ally — fails to con­sider that dif­fer­ence or the po­ten­tial for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, the court said in de­ter­min­ing that no-pa­role terms are un­con­sti­tu­tional for all but the rare ju­ve­nile whose crime re­flects “per­ma­nent in­cor­ri­gi­bil­ity.”

Yet the rul­ing’s prom­ise of re­sen­tenc­ing and a chance at re­lease has so far been halt­ing, in­con­sis­tent and some­times elu­sive, a 50-state ex­am­i­na­tion by The As­so­ci­ated Press found.

The AP spent months re­view­ing how coun­ties and states are wrestling with re-ex­am­in­ing ju­ve­nile life with­out pa­role. While some have re­sen­tenced and re­leased ju­ve­nile lifers locked up for years, oth­ers have re­sisted tak­ing action as bat­tles con­tinue in leg­is­la­tures and courts.

The re­sponse has prompted law­suits in some states and ac­cu­sa­tions in oth­ers that pros­e­cu­tors are drag­ging their feet or de­fy­ing the high court’s or­der to offer a sec­ond chance to all but the worst of the worst of­fend­ers.

Other le­gal chal­lenges are be­ing mounted on be­half of the many of­fend­ers sen­tenced as teens who are serv­ing dis­cre­tionary life with­out pa­role or no-pa­role terms ne­go­ti­ated as part of a plea deal, along with those serv­ing lengthy prison terms that ad­vo­cates ar­gue amount to life.

Among the cases caught up in the con­fu­sion: that of Wash­ing­ton-area sniper Lee Malvo, who was 17 when he took part in the 2002 killing spree that left 10 dead in the re­gion. He re­ceived mul­ti­ple life sen­tences.

In May, Malvo’s sen­tences in Vir­ginia were tossed af­ter a judge deemed them un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Malvo’s at­tor­ney, James John­ston, in June asked a Mary­land judge to do the same, ar­gu­ing that even though Malvo’s life-with­out-pa­role sen­tence was dis­cre­tionary, he de­serves a new hearing that would al­low a judge to ad­e­quately con­sider his age and cir­cum­stances at the time of the of­fense.

“It’s not enough to look at the record and say, ‘We can imag­ine how a sen­tenc­ing judge came to this con­clu­sion,’” Mr. John­ston said, “be­cause the law didn’t ex­ist then.”

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