In 2002, Maryland and Washington D.C. made national news when a pair of snipers terrorized the area, randomly killing citizens. The manhunt ended in the capture of two individuals, one an adult, and one, Lee Malvo, who was, at the time, a juvenile. The killing spree was considered one of the worst the nation had ever seen. The man was sentenced to death and executed in 2009, but the juvenile, Malvo, was sentenced to life in prison.
Juvenile Life Sentences Unconstitutional
In the years since Malvo’s conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that sentences for life without parole—considered the most severe criminal sentence after capital punishment—are unconstitutional as applied to juveniles. The high court has determined that while juveniles can and should be held accountable for their crimes, there must be some avenue for potential release, no matter how severe the crime committed. Otherwise, the sentences violate the eighth amendment as cruel and unusual punishment.
The Supreme Court also held that the ruling would be retroactive, meaning that any juvenile sentenced to life would have the right to assert his or her eighth amendment right to challenge the sentence.
Argument Over Juvenile Mindset
The logic applied in the decision was that the juvenile brain has more growth to do than an adult’s and that means that the juvenile brain is not fully mature. It also means that the chance for rehabilitation is greater. Many judges, when overturning life senses for juveniles, have cited the belief that a juvenile mind is rarely inherently evil or depraved, but rather, susceptible to outside influence.
Those against Malvo’s resentencing cite the brutality and violence of his crimes. Those in favor of it cite evidence that showed that Malvo was manipulated by the older man.
Attorneys Arguing for Resentencing
Based on this principle, attorneys for Malvo are arguing that his sentence should be reviewed and changed to allow for some chance of release. A lower court has ruled in Malvo’s favor, ordering resentencing, but that decision is on appeal. That appeal is expected to last a year, meaning that there may be no final answer on resentencing for some time. It is important to note that even if successful, the issue would only be sentencing; the decision does not affect or overturn Malvo’s actual conviction for the murders.
In the end, the debate may be only philosophical because Malvo faces six sentences for six murders, even if he was permitted parole after 20 years, he would have to serve 20 years for each murder—120 years—before the right to parole would kick in. But in Maryland, there are up to 200 inmates serving a life sentence for crimes committed when they were juveniles, so the Malvo case could create precedent for their release in the future.
Make sure your constitutional rights are protected and that you have representation at every stage of a criminal trial. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case if you are charged with a crime or arrested in Maryland.