Supreme Court Ruling Means NC Inmates Convicted As Juveniles Could Be Paroled

8:28 AM, Jun 27, 2012   |    comments
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +

Triad, NC -- They're young. They'll learn a lesson and change. They didn't mean it. Those may be excuses parents make for a child's poor behavior but what if your child takes someone's life?

There have been 88 cases where children in North Carolina committed first-degree murder before they were 18.

More than two dozen of them were still younger than 18 when they were sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.

But, that's no longer an option. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to throw out mandatory life in prison without parole sentences for juveniles.

The justices believe the offenders might someday be rehabilitated.

The decision by the justices only takes out the mandatory part of the law but, all the same, it gives more than 2,000 inmates across the country - 88 of them here in North Carolina - a chance to get out of prison.

This is a big deal for families who perhaps saw those life sentences without parole as some form of justice.

Until now, if a teenager committed a crime and was convicted of first-degree murder, they would automatically spend the rest of their life in prison.

An earlier decision by the U.S. Supreme Court makes it illegal to execute minors.

The change to the sentencing law on Monday now means judges have to consider the teen's background: things like maturity, family life and threat to community before handing down a sentence.

News 2 spoke with a Juvenile Court judge in Forsyth County who says this is actually a good idea.

"You want to give judges the discretion to hear as much information about a child before deciding what the appropriate punishment is. It doesn't mean the child is not going to get the harshest penalty, but before that happen the judge should have as much information as possible," Judge Lawrence Fine said.

Fine, who has sat on the bench for 11 years, also spent 18 years as a lawyer dealing with juvenile cases. He also teaches juvenile law at Wake Forest University.

He says this case-by-case review is important because in his nearly three decades of dealing with juveniles in the justice system he has found that some do change.

"Children are less mature, they have less brain development, they are more likely to be influenced by peers and negative influences, family lives are often horrible. I think these are things, facts that judges should have available to them before making a decision," he said. "You want to hold out the hope that the ones that are going to change, or think that have the opportunity to change, are going to be given some opportunity at a productive life."

For the 88 inmates in North Carolina's state prisons who were sentenced as juveniles to life without parole before Monday's Supreme Court decision, the law doesn't address whether they will be allowed to appeal

But, the judge says it's safe to assume that they will be included in these changes.

It's also not clear what the impact will be in North Carolina just yet.

The state has no procedure to implement the change in the law, which means our legislature will have to redraft new sentencing statutes for juveniles.

Most Watched Videos