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Supreme Court Sides With Children Automatically Sentenced To Die In Prison

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that children automatically sentenced to die in prison should get an opportunity to try for a more lenient sentence.

The decision, a 6-to-3 opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, made retroactive a 2012 ruling declaring that such sentences for minors -- known as mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole -- are unconstitutional.

"Henry Montgomery has spent each day of the past 46 years knowing he was condemned to die in prison," Kennedy wrote, referencing the Louisiana man at the center of the case. "Per­haps it can be established that, due to exceptional circumstances, this fate was a just and proportionate punishment for the crime he committed as a 17-year-old boy."

In reaching its determination, the court reiterated the principle that "children are constitutionally different from adults in their level of culpability" and possess "diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform."

Kennedy said that "prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption," thus reinstating "their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored."

In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia -- joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas -- assailed the court's reasoning and said that extending the 2012 precedent to juvenile sentences that predated it "is just a devious way of eliminating life without parole for juvenile offenders" once and for all.

Scalia then offers this passage.

"And then, in Godfather fashion, the majority makes state legislatures an offer they can’t refuse: Avoid all the utterly impossible nonsense we have prescribed by simply permitting juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole," he wrote.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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