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Advocates Applaud Mandated Hearings for Juvenile Offenders

PHOTO: Legal advocates are applauding the recent ruling by the New Hampshire Supreme Court that mandates a judicial hearing before any juvenile can get life without parole. Credit: Wiki Commons
PHOTO: Legal advocates are applauding the recent ruling by the New Hampshire Supreme Court that mandates a judicial hearing before any juvenile can get life without parole. Credit: Wiki Commons
September 22, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. - Young people convicted of first-degree murder can still get life without parole in the Granite State, but local advocates are applauding recent court rulings that at least grant them a hearing first. Gilles Bissonnette, staff attorney with the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, says a recent ruling by the New Hampshire Supreme Court mandates the hearing by a judge to consider mitigating circumstances before a juvenile can be sentenced to life without parole.

"What science has frankly shown and as any parent knows, children are just fundamentally different than adults. They are more capable of rehabilitation," Bissonnette says.

The Aug. 29 ruling by the State Supreme Court reaffirmed the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Miller versus Alabama which found states that mandated sentences of life without parole for young people convicted of first-degree murder violated the Constitution's prohibition against cruel-and-unusual punishment.

In addition to applying to juveniles now convicted of murder, Bissonnette says the New Hampshire ruling also applies retroactively; including the case of four juveniles now serving mandatory life sentences for murder.

"These individuals should have the opportunity to go before a judge and say, 'My youth was a mitigating factor, there may have been other mitigating factors in the case, and the court should consider alternative sentences,'" says Bissonnette.

Juveniles in the old cases and those in the future, according to Bissonnette, can still end up getting life without parole in the Granite State. He points out the United States stands alone in the world in imposing that kind of sentence on children as young as 13.

"I mean, not even Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria throw their children in jail for life and toss away the key," he says.

More than 2,500 children, according to Bissonnette, have been sentenced to life without parole in the United States.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NH