The US Supreme Court rejects new restrictions on juvenile sentences

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A general view of the United States Supreme Court in Washington

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The US Supreme Court on Thursday declined to re-limit the life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders. He ruled against a Mississippi man convicted of the murder of his grandfather at the age of 15 in a case examining the eighth amendment to the Constitution for cruel and unusual punishment.

The judges in a 6-3 verdict dismissed inmate Brett Jones’ arguments that his life sentence violated the Eighth Amendment because the judge did not separately determine in his trial that he was permanently incorrigible. The court’s six Conservatives were in the majority; the three Liberal members disagreed.

Jones, 31, was convicted of stabbing his grandfather to death in an argument with the boy’s girlfriend in 2004.

Written by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the verdict marked the end of the court’s recent rulings limiting life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders. The court moved to the right by a 6-3 Conservative majority after adding three judges appointed by former President Donald Trump since 2017.

Kavanaugh said it is the responsibility of states – not the courts – to “make these sweeping moral and political judgments” on reforming the juvenile system.

In a scathing dissenting opinion, the liberal judiciary, Sonia Sotomayor, said the court had effectively gutted previous judgments that placed new restrictions on juvenile prisoners.

“The court is not deceiving anyone,” Sotomayor wrote, saying the court had downplayed the effects of the verdict.

In a 2012 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences without parole in murder cases involving juvenile offenders were a cruel and unusual punishment. The court had previously ruled that juveniles should not be executed and that only juveniles accused of murder could be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

In 2016, the judges ruled that the 2012 ruling was applied retrospectively, meaning that convicted criminals who had been incarcerated years earlier could advocate their release.

Of the 50 states, 29 allow life sentences for juveniles without parole, while 20 states have no prisoners serving such sentences, according to the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit group that supports sentencing reform.

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