Criminal defendants have numerous rights that extend even after they are convicted of crimes, especially if they are juveniles at the time they allegedly engaged in unlawful activity. For example, a juvenile that is convicted of an offense is protected from being sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment without parole. Recently, a New Jersey court discussed the parameters and implications of this prohibition, in a case in which the defendant appealed a life sentence issued when he was seventeen on the grounds that it was unlawful. If you are a minor charged with a crime, it is important to confer with a knowledgeable New Jersey criminal defense attorney regarding your rights.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that in 1976, the defendant was charged with multiple crimes when he was seventeen, including murder and armed robbery. He was then indicted on numerous other charges, including intent to steal and escaping from a youth corrections center. He ultimately pleaded not guilty to the murder and intent to steal charges in exchange for dismissal of the remaining charges. He was then sentenced to life imprisonment.

Allegedly, during his imprisonment, the defendant was found guilty of over one hundred infractions, almost forty of which were serious. In 1990 he engaged in a riot during which a prison guard was stabbed. He was charged and convicted of multiple counts relating to the riot and was ultimately sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment with a parole bar of close to seven and a half years. He was subsequently denied parole multiple times. He then filed a motion arguing that his life sentence was illegal under recent case law.

Prohibition Against Mandatory Life Sentences for Juveniles

In Miller v. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole for a juvenile offender was unconstitutional. Specifically, the Court stated that a mandatory life sentence for a juvenile precludes consideration of the juvenile’s age and hallmark features, including immaturity and the failure to appreciate risks, and prevents the court from taking into account the environment that produced the juvenile.

Further, the Court noted a mandatory life sentence also neglects the circumstances of a homicide offense and ignores that the offender may have been convicted of a lesser offense if not for his or her bad habits related to youth. Finally, the Court stated that mandatory sentences disregarded the possibility of rehabilitation.

In the subject case, the court found that the defendant’s sentence was not illegal under Miller. Specifically, the court stated that the defendant’s continued imprisonment was not due to the terms of his original sentence but due to his behavior while imprisoned and subsequent convictions. As such, the court denied the defendant’s motion.

Meet with a Trusted New Jersey Attorney

The law recognizes that a juvenile should not be sentenced in the same manner as an adult defendant, and it is prudent of any minor charged with a crime to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. If you are accused of a crime, the trusted criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can advise you of your rights and assist you in seeking the best legal outcome available under the circumstances. You can contact us through our online form or by calling us at 877-450-8301 to set up a meeting.