Life without parole for juveniles splits MN high court

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional because it’s “cruel and unusual” punishment. But that ruling is doing no good for imprisoned people in Minnesota who were convicted before the ruling.

Today, several members of the Minnesota Supreme Court urged the U.S. high court to clear up whether its decision should be applied retroactively. Four state courts have held that it is not retroactive. Ten have said it is.

Gang leader LaMonte Martin was two months away from being considered an adult when he was sentenced for the 2006 gang killing of Christopher Lynch, who was an innocent bystander in a war between Minneapolis’ One-Nines gang and a rival gang.

In 2013, two witnesses recanted their testimony; one refused to testify at a retrial hearing, however, by invoking Fifth Amendment rights. At a plea hearing, Martin acknowledged bribing the two for their recantations, he was not allowed a new trial, and the lower court rejected his assertion that life without parole is unconstitutional.

Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled rejected his claim, ruling for the second time that life without parole for juveniles is not unconstitutional for those who were convicted before the U.S. Supreme Court said it is (pdf).

“Martin has failed to argue any basis to support his claim that his petition should be reviewed in the interests of justice,” Justice Christopher Dietzen wrote in his opinion today.

Two other justices — Justices G. Barry Anderson and David Lillehaug — agreed, but urged the U.S. Supreme Court to clear up the question.

“Whether Miller (ed. note: Miller v. Alabama is the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down life without parole sentences for juveniles) is retroactive should not vary from state to state,” Justice Lillehaug wrote.

Justice Alan Page reiterated his dissent from the first case (pdf) in which the court upheld life without parole for juveniles.

“We allowed an unconstitutional sentence to stand,” Justice Page declared in the earlier case. “Now, confronted with the opportunity to correct our error, we decline to do so.”

“No defendant should have to pay for our mistakes,” he said.

About 2,500 people in the U.S. are serving life without parole sentences for offenses committed when they were juveniles, according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case of a New Orleans man, who was a juvenile when he was convicted in 1963 of murdering a deputy sheriff.

He’s now almost 70 and still in prison.

Archive: Without Parole, Juveniles Face Bleak Life In Prison (NPR)