By Regina Salmons
Regina Salmons is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania.
Increasingly, researchers claim that the human brain is not fully developed at the major milestones in American youth culture. In other words, at sixteen, many Americans can drive a car, at eighteen they can vote, and at twenty-one they can drink alcohol, but according to the MIT Young Development Project, only at twenty-five are human brains fully developed.  Until 2012, a juvenile could be sentenced to life in prison without parole. The question that then arises is should the criminal justice system hold individuals with underdeveloped brains that commit criminal acts so accountable? Should any person under twenty-five be condemned to life and death in prison when their rational and moral judgment is not yet solidified?
In the 2012 case Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court ruled the sentencing of juveniles to life in prison without parole unconstitutional, arguing that it violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments’ protections against cruel and unusual punishment.  However, only juveniles charged with committing, or being an accomplice to, murder after the decision feel its effects; the ruling has no retroactive powers to overturn or amend the sentences of juveniles made prior to it. Thus, all of Pennsylvania’s nearly five hundred juveniles serving life without parole, the highest inmate count for any state in the country, have no hope of re-entering society and redefining their life with a fully developed capacity for reason. 
The Supreme Court is investigating the temporal and judicial reach of its power as it considers whether it has the constitutional right to retroactively alter the sentences that would have been deemed unconstitutional had they been made after the Miller decision in the current case of Montgomery v. Louisiana. Therefore, the Court has allocated a substantial amount of time to debate their jurisdiction over the case. The Court’s decision could set a precedent that has far-reaching consequences for other rulings that were not initially deemed to have retroactive scope. 
There has been, and still is, great moral, scientific, and legal debate over the legitimacy and rightness of sentencing juveniles to life without parole, so is it right to subject the rulings made under a previous understanding of juvenile behavior and the Constitution to the interpretations born of a new consensus? Conversely, is it right to condemn human beings to unjust punishment, because they were tried during a time when the justice system had an incomplete understanding of human brain development and of the Eighth Amendment? This case will have far-reaching ramifications for the U.S. criminal justice system.
 "Young Adult Development Project." Young Adult Development Project. http://hrweb.mit.edu/worklife/youngadult/brain.html#beyond Accessed October 16, 2015.
 "Argument Preview: A New Look -- Maybe -- at Life Sentences for Youths." SCOTUSblog RSS. http://www.scotusblog.com/2015/10/a-new-look-maybe-at-life-sentences-for-youths/ October 8, 2015. Accessed October 16, 2015.
"Decarcerate PA." Factsheet: Life Without Parole in Pennsylvania. http://decarceratepa.info/content/factsheet-life-without-parole-pennsylvania Accessed October 17, 2015.
 "Argument Analysis: A Barrier to Deciding Juvenile Sentencing Issue?" SCOTUSblog RSS. October 13, 2015. http://www.scotusblog.com/2015/10/argument-analysis-a-barrier-to-deciding-juvenile-sentencing-issue/ Accessed October 16, 2015.
Photo Credit: Flickr User Kate Ter Haar
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