For many years, juveniles found guilty of murder in New Jersey have faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years without parole. But last month, a ruling from the New Jersey Supreme Court added fresh flexibility to that mandatory minimum sentence, ruling in a 4-3 decision that juveniles who commit murder now cannot serve more than 20 years without being considered for re-sentencing or parole.
Allowing for Juvenile Brain Development
The case was brought by two men convicted of murder as youths who argued that the 30-year minimum constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.” While the NJ Supreme Court declined to strike down the mandatory minimum, they did concede an important point: that the juvenile brain is still developing and more likely to change than the mind of an adult...and for that reason, juvenile murder cases should receive more individual consideration.
“Children lack maturity, can be impetuous...and often fail to appreciate the long-term consequences of their actions,” wrote Chief Justice Stuart Rabner of the decision. “They are also more capable of change than adults...we cannot predict, at a juvenile's young age, whether a person can be rehabilitated and when an individual might be fit to reenter society.”
Rabner suggested in his decision that the option for lengthy sentences should remain in place because “we know as well that some juveniles—who commit very serious crimes and show no signs of maturity or rehabilitation over time—should serve lengthy periods of incarceration.”
The decision to add the re-sentencing consideration after 20 years provided an acceptable middle ground to the majority of justices. “The issue before the Court is how to meld those truths in a way that conforms to the Constitution and contemporary standards of decency,” wrote Rabner.
Justice for Juveniles Can Be Tricky
This case is about more than just juvenile sentencing guidelines for murder; it underscores an important balancing act that the justice system plays when deciding appropriate sentences for minors who commit crimes.
The court's decision seems to concede that juveniles are more capable than adults of rehabilitation due to their developing minds... but it also acknowledges that turning some juveniles back out into the streets just because they are young can open the door for even worse criminal activity. Because both scenarios are possible in a developing brain, it is impossible to predict which approach is better for any individual child. For that reason alone, it's much more likely that a juvenile will receive a harsher sentence than they might actually need to become rehabilitated, and therefore, fair justice would not have been served.
The Bottom Line
If your child has gotten in trouble with the law in New Jersey, it's critical to have an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner. When it comes to juvenile justice, there are many nuances that can be easily overlooked. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm will help make sure your child's rights are protected, and that individual circumstances are taken into account.
Call the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options.