Supreme Court won’t hear case impacting “juvenile lifers”

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear a case potentially impacting hundreds of inmates in Pennsylvania, who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole while they were still kids.

In 2012, the nation’s highest court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that a mandatory punishment of life without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional when it comes to juveniles, even in cases involving murder. The justices split 5-4.

However, the justices did not say whether the decision was retroactive to about 2,600 inmates across the country who had already received that punishment.

According to the Pennsylvania-based Juvenile Law Center, more than 450 inmates in Pennsylvania are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were kids.

“States need to respect those differences between kids and adults,” said Marsha Levick, the center’s deputy director.

Following the decision in the Miller case, states have disagreed about whether the decision is retroactive. Illinois, Texas, Nebraska, Iowa, Massachusetts and Mississippi all found the decision is retroactive.

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court joined Louisiana and Minnesota in determining that it isn’t. The court’s decision was split 4-3.

Levick’s group appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices said Monday they won’t hear the appeal. There was no explanation given.

Gerald Lord, an attorney in York, says he expects the Supreme Court will take up the issue at some point.

Lord represents Michael Lehman, who was convicted of first-degree murder for his role in the fatal stabbing of Kwame Beatty in North York in 1988. Lehman was 14 at the time and was among four people arrested. Lehman says he did not participate in the stabbing and was convicted as an accomplice to the murder.

He’s serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“There’s no way he should be in jail right now. That man should have been out of jail 15, 20 years ago,” said Lord. “That’s bounced against the rights of citizens to enjoy safety and freedom, and there’s a friction there.”

Following the Miller decision, Pennsylvania state lawmakers reformed how juveniles are sentenced in murder cases to include age as a factor in determining punishments.