PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The new Philadelphia district attorney is creating more light at the end of the tunnel in juvenile-lifer cases.
He’s breaking away from the guidelines that his predecessor followed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that its 2012 ban on mandatory life-without-parole sentences should be retroactive.
When the high court ruled it was “cruel and unusual punishment,” Philadelphia had more juvenile lifers than any other jurisdiction in the world. The latest figures from the DA’s office show more than 125, out of about 315 in Philadelphia, have been re-sentenced.
District Attorney Larry Krasner has long maintained the Commonwealth “is an extreme outlier in excessive sentencing.”
“Pennsylvania is stocked to the gills with people in jail, at tremendous expense, who no longer pose any threat,” he said.
Krasner, the former longtime defense lawyer, already has new deals for 17 whose counsel rejected offers made by former DA Seth Williams, who mostly stuck to state sentencing guidelines.
“What Seth Williams was doing was a one-size-fits-all approach, which is contrary to the U.S. Supreme Court. They were basically offering everybody 35 years, regardless of whether that person was too dangerous to be out at 35 years, or was no longer dangerous after 15,” Krasner explained.
The DA’s office says the latest offers make all but two of the lifers eligible for parole right away.
“We’re doing a searching individual analysis of each case to try to figure out what’s fair,” said Krasner.
Krasner says he recognizes that youngsters make bad decisions, but juveniles can made amends as they grow older.
“The U.S. Supreme Court says juveniles are uniquely capable of reform, and they’re far less capable of consequential thinking. So, the Supreme Court says juveniles can change dramatically during the course of their lives,” he said.
Each case goes before a Philadelphia judge, who must approve agreements in juvenile-lifer cases.