Supreme Court ruling may affect Pa. inmates jailed as juveniles

    By a 5-4 vote the court ruled that juveniles cannot receive a sentence of life without parole if they have not been convicted of murder. The ruling could affect hundreds of Pennsylvania inmates serving lifetime sentences.

    A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court this week could affect hundreds of Pennsylvania inmates serving lifetime sentences.

    By a 5-4 vote the court ruled that juveniles cannot receive a sentence of life without parole if they have not been convicted of murder.

    Pennsylvania has the highest number of lifers convicted for crimes in their teens – more than any other state. But the Supreme Court ruling affects some of them only indirectly. That’s because a juvenile has to be convicted of first or second degree murder to get life without parole in Pennsylvania.

    The court’s ruling only focused on those juveniles not convicted of murder.

    But the ruling could open a door to parole for some of the state’s lifers convicted of second degree murder.

    “It’s likely the Supreme Court’s opinion, which addresses the issue of a sentence being proportional to your responsibility for a crime and how blame worthy you are, would at least apply to second degree murder in Pennsylvania,” says Robert Schwartz, the executive director of the Juvenile Law Center.

    Schwartz says second degree murder could include someone who was accessory to the killing, but did not pull the trigger.

    He says there are hundreds of Pennsylvania inmates who received life sentences as teens, some dating as far back as the 1950s.

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