Thirty-four men serving life sentences without release in Arizona for killings committed when they were juveniles are getting a chance to argue that they should one day be released.
The opportunity for new sentences stems from a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed mandatory life without parole for juveniles convicted of murder. Last year, the court said the ruling applied to the more than 2,000 inmates already serving such sentences nationwide, and that all but the rare irredeemable juvenile offender should have a chance at parole.
In Arizona, prisoners serving life without release — also known as natural life sentences — aren’t guaranteed lesser punishments. They must ask a court to review their cases, and may receive a parole-eligible sentence if they can show their crimes reflected “the transient immaturity of youth.” But a natural life sentence can be upheld if a judge determines an offender remains irreparably corrupt.
Without a law from the Arizona Legislature on how to handle these cases, lawyers predict that lower-court judges who hold resentencing hearings will have to create procedures to determine whether a prisoner gets a lower sentence.
Prosecutors in Arizona’s two largest counties, which account for 85 percent of the cases, said they won’t automatically recommend the same lesser sentences for all.
Re-examining the cases is expected to take years. Attorneys liken the process to the deep research and analysis needed when preparing for death penalty cases. Prosecutors are reviewing evidence and talking to victims’ relatives to get their input.
“It’s a do-over of tremendous proportions, given some of…
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