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OPD takes closer look at juveniles sentenced to life in prison

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court retroactively applied a ruling that struck down automatic life terms without the possibility of parole for teenage killers. How many people the ruling might affect was not immediately known, however. Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania had more than 1,000 inmates serving life sentences for murders committed as teenagers, according to court filings. (They were among a handful of states that did not retroactively apply the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling.)

Now, thanks to the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, we have a count for our state: OPD estimates there are more than 200 people serving a life sentence for crimes committed before they turned 18.

While Maryland does not have the possibility of mandatory life without parole sentencing, but the “vast majority” of Maryland inmates who were sentenced as minors to life and life without parole “are subject to an equally excessive sentence” as now defined by the Supreme Court.

“Every child defendant deserves a full and fair sentencing hearing where a judge considers the child’s age, role in the offense, and the mitigating circumstances of youth” said James Johnston, director of OPD’s Youth Re-Sentencing Project, in a statement. “We are actively reviewing cases and leveraging resources to represent all OPD clients serving a juvenile life sentence.”

The OPD is encouraging prisoners and family members of inmates serving a juvenile life sentence to contact Johnson at 410-209-8615 or at jjohnston@opd.state.md.us. The public defender’s office also “welcomes” attorneys interested in doing pro bono work on the cases.

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