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Deadline Approaches For PA Juveniles To Appeal Life Sentences

Gregg_Cherrie--NEW Cherri Gregg
Cherri Gregg is the community affairs reporter for KYW Newsr...
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By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that mandatory sentence of life without parole is unconstitutional when it comes to juveniles. The deadline for juvenile lifers who want to appeal their sentence is Friday.

“Pennsylvania has the largest number of juvenile lifers in the United States and in the world,” says Marsha Levick, Deputy Director and Chief Counsel at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. 

She says there are nearly 500 juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania, that’s roughly one-fifth of 2500 juvenile lifers nationwide.

“The reason why we have such a high number is because we have only one sentence available in Pennsylvania currently for juveniles convicted of first or second degree murder,” Levick says. “And that’s a mandatory sentence of life without parole.”

That’s because juveniles charged with murder are tried as adults.

“Now that the sentence has been ruled unconstitutional, obviously the courts in Pennsylvania will need to figure out what the new sentencing scheme will look like and the legislature will have a role in this,” says Levick.

Levick says the Juvenile Law Center expects about 300 juvenile-lifers will file their appeal by the deadline.  She says those who miss the deadline may be able to get help. 

“Generally, under Pennsylvania law, if someone is serving an illegal sentence, they should be able to challenge that sentence at any time,” she says. 

The timing of when all of these appeals will be heard is unclear. 

Levick says she is arguing two of the appeals before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court next month and those rulings are expected to serve as precedent for the other cases.