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State Supreme Court issues important ruling on youth sentencing

When a juvenile commits a serious criminal act, he or she should face some measure of consequences. However, often in such cases, juveniles have been handed sentences that keep them behind bars until they grow very old or even die. This course of legal action is typically not appropriate in most circumstances; at least that is what the New Jersey Supreme Court believes according to a recent ruling.

In a 7-0 decision, the Court ruled that before youths are issued lengthy sentences there are a number of factors that must be taken into consideration, including family environment, peer pressure, and age.

The decision is said to have been influenced by a ruling made in 2012 by the U.S. Supreme Court that dealt with youths receiving life without parole. Additionally, the court cited the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids a defendant being issued "cruel and unusual punishment."

Regarding the ruling, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote that under the constitution, youth matters. He also wrote a recommendation to the New Jersey Legislature that the state's current juvenile sentencing law be revised to help prevent future potential constitutional challenges.

In making this ruling, the court made the humane and sensible judgment that young people are different from adults and they should be treated as such under the law whenever appropriate.

But nonetheless, juveniles can still face life-impacting penalties if charged with crimes and as such their rights should be protected. If your child has run afoul of the law, an experienced criminal defense attorney can work on his or her behalf and may be able to have the charges dismissed or reduced.

Source: NJ.com, "N.J. Supreme Court issues 'significant' ruling on sentencing youths," Brent Johnson, Jan. 2017

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