Juveniles No Longer Face Mandatory Life Without Parole; Retroactivity Still At Issue

Dec 1, 2015

Lindsey Riter-Rapp
Credit Photo courtesy of Lindsey Riter-Rapp

A state prison inmate convicted of second-degree murder while he was still a juvenile is appealing his case to the South Dakota Supreme Court. Oral arguments, first scheduled to be heard in December, have been continued to Jan. 13.

On the murder conviction, Braiden McCahren was sentenced about a year ago to 25 years, with 15 suspended. If he had been convicted of the same charge prior to 2012, he would have faced a mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole.

In the 21st Century, in juvenile justice, there has been an emerging realization that the young are not like adults. In many states, however, the young have been treated like adults in sentencing and incarceration.

A trio of U.S. Supreme Court opinions has called a halt to certain practices. In 2005, the court ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional for offenders who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime. In 2010, the court said juvenile offenders can't be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide crimes. And in 2012, the court determined that juveniles who commit murder cannot be sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole without first having a meaningful opportunity to argue for a lesser sentence.

That last case is Miller v. Alabama, and it has had a significant effect on the way South Dakota handles those rare instances when a juvenile commits murder.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley
Credit Photo courtesy of SD Attorney General

SDPB's Victoria Wicks takes a look at these federal cases, along with another relevant case currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court and South Dakota's response to these opinions.