Tags: Supreme Court | prison | life | sentence | parole | juveniles

High Court to Review Life Without Parole for Juveniles

By    |   Friday, 12 Dec 2014 09:30 PM

The Supreme Court says it will decide whether hundreds of juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole deserve a chance to be re-sentenced.

The nation's high court announced Friday it would take a look at the case of a Louisiana man who's has in prison since 1985 for the accidental shooting of his best friend during a botched armed robbery.

George Toca, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, was given an automatic life term with no possibility of parole; two years ago, the justices ruled that judges and juries must take account of age when sentencing anyone younger than 18 at the time of even the most brutal crimes.

"Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the 2012 decision, The Washington Post notes.

"It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him — and from which he cannot usually extricate himself — no matter how brutal or dysfunctional."

Prosecutors argue, however, it would be impossible in Toca's case to turn the clock back 30 years and gauge his "diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change" at the time of the crime, The Post reports.

Courts around the country have differed on whether prison inmates whose cases are closed can take advantage of the high court ruling and seek parole or new sentencing hearings. The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled against Toca.

Toca also has lost several rounds of appeals about his responsibility for the crime that landed him at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, including that witnesses mistakenly identified him as the shooter.

"If this court denies this writ and continues to allow Louisiana to deny [Toca] a sentencing hearing that was mandated by this court in [2012], George Toca will die in prison," Toca’s lawyer, Emily Maw of the Innocence Project New Orleans, wrote in her petition, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

"He will die in prison even though other life-sentenced prisoners around the country who were convicted as juveniles are given individual sentencing hearings," she said.

"And he will die in prison even though he personifies rehabilitation and the facts of his conviction are a striking example of why mandatory life without parole for some juveniles is cruel and unusual."

Maw urged the court to take up the case to resolve the conflict for "hundreds" of juvenile offenders entitled to new sentencing hearings, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

She said the slain friend’s family believes Toca is innocent, and added:

"Since Mr. Toca was convicted of this shooting 30 years ago, he has grown into a peaceful adult who can make a valuable contribution to society. He entered prison without even a high school diploma and he has since earned a Bachelor’s degree.”

The case will be argued in the early spring.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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The Supreme Court says it will decide whether hundreds of juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole deserve a chance to be re-sentenced.
prison, life, sentence, parole, juveniles
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2014-30-12
Friday, 12 Dec 2014 09:30 PM
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