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Ruling Offers Juvenile Killers Possibility for Parole

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last June that juveniles cannot be sentenced to mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole is now having repercussions in Pennsylvania.  

The high court ruling meant the commonwealth had to determine what to do with the approximately 400 juveniles tried in adult proceedings who fell into that category.

Last week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed out the sentence for Qu'eed Batts, of Northampton County, who was 14 when he fatally shot a man. The state's top court ordered that Batts be re-sentenced.

Wes Oliver, associate professor at the Duquesne University Law School, said the Commonwealth v. Batts decision requires those cases be remanded, or sent back, to the trial court.  

"By remanding these cases, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is putting the judge in the position of choosing between life and life without parole," Oliver said. "That seems to be acceptable under the (U.S.) Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama."

Oliver said it's likely the same judge who heard the original trial will hear the remanded case and added it's unlikely that most of the life without parole sentences will stand, although some will.

"There's going to be a range of seriousness," Oliver said. "If you believe that some murders are worse than others, which they kind of have to be, and if you have two punishments: life and life without parole, some people fit into the higher category and some people fit into the lower category." 

Oliver noted the community shouldn't worry about those who do fit into the lower category and will eventually be released on parole.

"One of the things that is clearly true about violent offenders is that after a certain point in time, they are no longer violent," Oliver said. "There is a certain age group or age bracket beyond which violent offenders tend to no longer be violent."