Juvenile crimes: Topic of debate in Tennessee

There is significant controversy in the state of Tennessee regarding a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court banned mandatory life-without-parole sentences for people under 18 years of age. The questions have arisen because judges and juries must choose between life in prison or life with the possibility of parole after 51 years in prison for those convicted of certain juvenile crimes. Reform advocates believe that these options are harsh.

The Supreme Court decision to outlaw the mandatory sentences was made in 2012. However, in 2016, the court determined that the ruling would affect more than 2,000 people currently serving those types of sentences across the country. The decision stated that all but the most serious offenders should have an opportunity to be paroled. Supporters of the decision contend that juveniles have a greater chance of being rehabilitated. Also, many consider younger offenders to be more easily influenced and to have poorer judgment.

While many states have offered resentencing to their juvenile offenders because of the court's ruling, Tennessee has not as yet done so. One such juvenile that is affected by the decision was involved in a 1997 crime at an East Tennessee rest area. The juvenile was 14 at the time of the crime. While the man has petitioned the court to challenge his life-without-parole sentence, some authorities don't believe a reduction in the penalty should occur. A district attorney contends that the juvenile in question reflects the permanent incorrigibility that mandates keeping the sentence the same.

When teenagers are accused of crimes in Tennessee, it is beneficial for the case to remain within the juvenile court system, if possible. An experienced criminal defense attorney will work closely with those charged with juvenile crimes to keep them from being tried as an adult. A strong defense team will work with clients to achieve the best outcomes possible in their cases.

Source: sfgate.com, "Tennessee experts spar over prison terms for juveniles", Sheila Burke, July 31, 2017

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