Just recently, the United States Supreme Court announced that it was unconstitutional to sentence teenagers to die in prison. Now, a dozen Maryland inmates are asking for new sentences. These individuals are serving life terms with no possibility of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles.
The landmark ruling, which prevented mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles, went into effect in 2016. Since then, four lifers in Maryland have seen their sentences voided. They’re currently waiting resentencing.
Motions for new hearings in Maryland tend to be more complicated than similar battles in other state courts. In Maryland, judges have more lead way in handling down life sentences without parole. They aren’t always mandated to do so, but can do so if they choose to. This makes it more complex, because the Supreme Court’s ruling does not necessarily impact these sentences.
To justify their decision, the Supreme Court cited research suggesting that adolescent brains are still developing, making them much more susceptible to peer pressure. In return, the teen is more likely to commit a criminal act, without fully understanding the long-term consequences. The court believes sentencing youths to the same sentences are adult offenders eliminates the differences, while also ignored the potential for future rehabilitation.
The sentences were deemed unconstitutional for all juveniles, except for those that have committed crimes that display “permanent incorrigibility”. Despite the ruling, the promise of a new sentence has been difficult to obtain for most. The Associated Press recently conducted a review of the resentencing of juveniles serving without parole. Some inmates have received responses, but many believe that prosecutors have dragged their feet in an attempt to defy the court’s order.
One of the most notable cases caught up in the confusion is that of DC sniper, Lee Malvo, who was just 17 when he participated in a killing spree that ended the lives of 10 people. In return, he was sentenced to multiple life sentences. In May, his sentences in Virginia were thrown out after being considered unconstitutional. A Maryland judge was asked to follow in suit in June. In Maryland, the sentence was discretionary and this creates a stiffer challenge for Malvo’s representation.
For Lee Malvo and so many like him, the future remains cloudy.