Whether a teen in Virginia or another state can be sentenced to life in prison for murder may depend on the potential to rehabilitate that offender. The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments regarding the life sentence of a then-15-year-old convicted of murdering his grandfather in Mississippi in 2004. A disagreement over the boy’s girlfriend led to the youth stabbing his grandfather to death and getting a life sentence.

Incorrigibility never weighed prior to sentence

The case affirms that the youth stabbed his grandfather and does not deny it. The problem is that the sentencing court did not bother to consider whether the youth might become rehabilitated after spending a significant time in prison. A 2012 Supreme Court ruling said that sentencing youthful offenders to life in prison with no possibility of parole violates the Eight Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment. A subsequent ruling in 2016 said that criminals convicted prior to the 2012 ruling could apply it retroactively to their respective cases.

Determination must be made

The appeal of the Mississippi murder case hinges on if a sentencing judge must consider and officially rule whether the youth is “permanently incorrigible” before imposing a life sentence with no chance of parole. The case before the Supreme Court says the sentencing judge did not make such a determination, which makes the now-31-year-old prisoner eligible for parole. One Justice suggested that the case should challenge the life sentence without parole based on an Eight Amendment violation rather than the prior Supreme Court ruling.

Most states allow life sentences without parole for youth

Twenty-nine states have laws enabling courts to sentence juveniles to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for certain crimes. Twenty of those states do not have anyone serving such sentences, and an expected June 2021 ruling by the Supreme Court might put an end to them in all states.

If you have been accused of a crime, legal counsel might help protect your rights and fight for a fair outcome. An experienced criminal law attorney in the greater Lynchburg area may help provide the best possible defense.