Pennsylvania Teens Face Life Without Parole for Juvenile Crimes

Throughout the United States, there are 79 people serving sentences of life without parole for crimes they committed when they were 14 years old or younger. Many have decried this practice, arguing that it is unjust to impose such harsh punishments on the acts of children, many of whose brains were not fully developed enough to appreciate the consequences of their actions.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws allowing the death penalty as punishment for juvenile crimes and abolished life without parole for non-homicide juvenile offenses. However, in many states, life without parole is still a common punishment for crimes involving the death of another person, even in cases where death was unintentional or the juvenile was not the actual murderer.

In March, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case seeking to outlaw this practice. The suit was brought on behalf of two men who are serving life without parole for crimes committed at age 14. One participated in a robbery in which another person shot and killed a cashier. The other, in cooperation with an older friend, set fire to the trailer of a neighbor who had spent the evening getting the boys drunk and high on drugs.

The men's criminal appeals attorneys argued that imposing such a severe punishment for a youthful offense constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

The Court is expected to issue its opinion in the case later this year.

Pennsylvania Juvenile Crimes

In Pennsylvania prisons, there are more than 440 inmates serving sentences of life without parole for crimes committed at age 17 or younger. In fact, Pennsylvania has more juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole than any other state in the country.

Approximately 60 percent of these inmates were sentenced to life without parole for first-time offenses. Although nearly all of the crimes involved some form of murder, many of the inmates did not actually commit the killing themselves. Instead, they were convicted of "felony murder," a crime that holds all conspirators guilty of murder when a person is killed during the commission of a crime.

Sadly, it is not rare for a juvenile to be sentenced to life without parole when another person kills someone in a drug deal, robbery or burglary gone wrong.

If you or a loved one is charged with a serious juvenile crime, it is important to have a skilled representative who can work to achieve a fair outcome. An experienced Pennsylvania juvenile law attorney can help protect you or your child's rights.