A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision banning mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of murder doesn’t apply to Georgia or the recent sentencing of a Harlem teen.
On Monday, the court ruled that it is unconstitutional for state laws to require juveniles convicted of murder to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“To Georgia law, it doesn’t apply since the judge has discretion regardless,” Assistant District Attorney Natalie Paine said, adding that Georgia has no such mandatory sentencing requirement.
The 5-4 ruling would not have affected Lacy Aaron Schmidt, now 16, who was convicted in February of murdering Alana May Calahan, 14, on Jan. 31, 2011. Schmidt was 14, legally a child, at the time of the crime.
Schmidt was 15 in March, when Superior Court Judge Michael Annis sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The judge had the option of imposing a sentence of life with or without parole.
Paine, who prosecuted the case against Schmidt, said about 23 states have mandatory sentencing requirements for juveniles convicted of murder, regardless of their age.
“Since they also allowed children to be tried as adults, it inadvertently made children subjected to the mandatory sentencing scheme,” Paine said. “Really, it doesn’t apply to us (in Georgia). But it does apply in the sense that Georgia could never change the law.”
The court’s decision left open the possibility that judges could sentence juveniles to life without the possibility of parole in individual cases of murder, but that state laws cannot automatically impose such a sentence.
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the majority’s opinion that we “hold that mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of the crime violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ ”
The opinion also states that a child should be given the opportunity to persuade a judge to permit release.