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Life Without Parole Ruling Will Be Felt In Lower Courts
By indianapublicmedia.org - Julie Rawe
Published: 06/28/2012

Indiana -- The Supreme Court ruled Monday that state and federal laws cannot have mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles who commit murder. While Indiana does not have the kind of automatic law the court struck down, the ruling could still impact sentencing for juveniles in lower courts.

The Supreme Court’s ruling says courts must be allowed to think through whether a life without parole sentence fits the age and circumstances of a juvenile defendant.

Indiana’s statutes already allow judges and juries to take those factors into consideration when hearing a juvenile murder case, but legal experts say the Supreme Court’s ruling is about more than the legal ruling they made.

IU Maurer School of Law professor Joseph Hoffman says the Supreme Court’s opinion was sending a message to lower courts about any kind of life without parole sentencing.

“They issued a very limited holding that will still allow juveniles to get life without parole sentences,” he says, “but they also sent a kind of signal to the lower courts, both state and federal courts, to be careful, be cautious about doing so, and that’s where we’re going to see the action over the next few years.”

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