Sentencing juveniles to life without parole (JLWOP) is one of the many areas of criminal justice in which the United States sets itself apart from the rest of the world. No other country allows for the imposition of life sentences without the possibility of parole for child offenders. Pennsylvania has the most people serving Juvenile Life without Parole in the country.Of the approximately 2,500 JLWOP sentences in the United States, around 400 or so were awarded in Pennsylvania, which is what is known in juvenile sentencing terms as a "double mandatory" state: juveniles involved in a homicide are automatically transferred to adult court and tried as adults (“adult crime, adult time“) and both first- and second-degree murder convictions carry mandatory LWOP sentences.
In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court (In Miller v. Alabama) ruled That Mandatory Life without Parole Sentences for Juveniles Are Unconstitutional. At that time the decision did not state that the ruling was retroactive therefore each state's court made their own decision on retroactivity and unfortunately Pennsylvania's high court declared that the decision was not retroactive. This left over 400 individuals serving JLWOP in PA without the right to seek relief from the Supreme Court Decision. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear another case (Montgomery v. Louisiana) in which the main issue was whether the 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama was a substantive rule that must be applied retroactively. Last month the U.S Supreme Court issued their decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana and declared in a 6 to 3 decision that the rule is Retroactive. As a result of this decision, 69 year-old Henry Montgomery (who has been serving a mandatory JLWOP sentence for over 50 years), along with over a thousand others serving mandatory life without parole sentences for crimes committed while they were juveniles, will receive new sentencing hearings or be considered for parole. In Pennsylvania specifically this means that over 400 individuals serving JLWOP will finally be given an opportunity for new and hopefully just sentencing.