Huntsville Attorney Breaks Down Supreme Court Ruling On Alabama Case About Juvenile Sentences

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - When Miller v. Alabama went before the Supreme Court, the only possible sentence for a juvenile convicted of a capital crime in Alabama was life without parole.

"After this decision today, that is no longer the case.  That has been declared unconstitutional," said Huntsville attorney Mark McDaniel.  "What has to happen now is the sentencer has to be given an option to give a life sentence or life without parole.  In other words, the mandatory life without parole is off the table now."

Alabama lawmakers set the law so all capital convictions result in death or life without parole.

The Supreme Court already struck down the death penalty for juveniles, leaving life without parole as the only option for capital crimes committed before a person's 18th birthday.

Now, more flexibility is required.

"If you are convicted of a capital offense, the only sentence you can get is life in prison without parole or death," McDaniel explained.  "Now they're saying, wait a minute, not for juvenile offenders.  It's not mandatory they get life without parole.  You've got to be able to consider a life sentence along with life without parole."

But the court does still have some power when deciding punishments for juvenile capital offenses.  

Tough questions will determine whether the convicted gets an opportunity at parole or not.

McDaniel says, "Was this act, his act or her act, especially heinous, cruel, or atrocious compared to other capital offenses?  So if that be the case, age is not going to matter.  I think the sentencer is going to say this case is so bad, I'm going to give them life without parole."

He adds that those convicted for a capital juvenile offense in Alabama already will now be able to appeal their sentencing and perhaps get it commuted to life with the possibility of parole.

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