Recent U.S. Supreme Court Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, including this year’s decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016), holds that except in rare cases a life sentence without parole for a crime committed by a juvenile is disproportionate punishment in violation of the cruel and unusual punishment clause. In accordance with these cases, persons sentenced to life as juveniles now must be provided a “meaningful opportunity” for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.
These recent cases require New York state to re-evaluate its parole law, regulations, and practices for four reasons: (1) New York is one of only two states that automatically prosecutes teenagers 16 and up as adults; (2) children as young as 13 convicted of murder are automatically sentenced to life in prison with opportunity for parole; (3) the New York Board of Parole does not currently focus its parole release decision-making on whether or not offenders have been reformed and are safe to release, i.e., their “maturity and rehabilitation”; and (4) the New York parole scheme does not currently afford procedural protections to ensure that the Board of Parole provides persons serving life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles a meaningful opportunity for release.
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