A Question of What's Law and What's Right

Supreme Court considers whether to resentence juveniles serving a punishment it now says is cruel.

Stuck behind bars?

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Giving juveniles mandatory life sentences without the opportunity for parole is an unjust punishment, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional. But that's not enough to get young offenders already sentenced to mandatory life resentenced or released. For the court’s 2011 decision to apply retroactively, the justices would have to deem it a new substantive rule of law. On Tuesday, the justices heard arguments on that question. If they follow the technical logic of their retroactivity rule, things don’t look good for the people incarcerated under a principle that the court now says is cruel and unusual.

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