Juvenile Life Sentences: Part 4

by | Apr 28, 2017 | Blog, Criminal Law, Juvenile Delinquency, Laws Protecting Children, New Jersey

Juvenile Life SentencesThe next issue to arise out of cases like this will likely be “what constitutes a lengthy period of parole ineligibility.” It is surprising that the Chief Justice did not anticipate this issue and set a bright line with a definite number of years.

The Court continued:

Because of the overriding importance of that decision, the Court directs trial judges to exercise a heightened level of care before imposing multiple consecutive sentences on juveniles. Judges must do an individualized assessment of the juvenile about to be sentenced but should not resort to general life-expectancy tables when they determine the overall length of a sentence.

It is likely that judges will still be considering life expectancy tables, but will avoid expressly stating this consideration in their sentencing opinions in order to avoid being reversed on appeal. That makes the consideration similar to the related unspoken consideration of retribution, i.e. revenge.

The New Jersey Supreme Court continued:

We limits our decision to the question raised by these appeals, namely, what should happen when a juvenile facing a very lengthy term of imprisonment is first sentenced. The Court noted, however, that even when judges begin to use the Miller factors at sentencing, a small number of juveniles will receive lengthy sentences with substantial periods of parole ineligibility. Graham left it to the States to explore the means and mechanisms to give defendants some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. The Court observes that some States have already acted and encourages the New Jersey Legislature to examine this issue to avoid a potential constitutional challenge in the future.

On remand in both cases, the sentencing courts should consider the factors set forth in Miller. The judges should also consider any rehabilitative efforts since defendants’ original sentences.

Zuber’s case was reversed, Comer’s case was affirmed, and both cases are remanded for resentencing consistent with the principles outlined in this opinion.