LETTER: Justice must be fair — and legal
In the Miller case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled imposing mandatory life without parole sentences upon juveniles is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by our U.S. Constitution. Our General Assembly in Harrisburg promptly acted on this decision.
Now, juveniles convicted of second degree murder can only be sentenced to life with parole. Juveniles convicted of first degree murder may be sentenced to life with parole or life without parole. How ironic. This is exactly what our sentencing laws at §9756 have specified for decades. However, prosecutors and judges chose not to obey these laws. They insisted on imposing mandatory life without the right to parole sentences upon everyone convicted of first and even second degree murder knowing our laws did not authorize such sentences.
Starting in 1974, our statutory laws at §9756 required juveniles and adults convicted of the lesser offence of second degree murder to be sentenced to life with parole. These laws also specified juveniles and adults convicted of the greater offence of first degree murder may be sentenced to life with parole or life without parole. These laws did not authorize mandatory life without parole sentences, period. This is in harmony with the U.S. Constitution and our High Court's rulings in Miller and now the Montgomery decision declaring the unconstitutional sentences of about 500 Pennsylvania juveniles must be redressed.
Criminal acts must be punished, but punishment must not be cruel, unusual, nor illegal. Punishment must be legal and fair to balance on our scales of justice. Virtually every Pennsylvania lifer is serving a blatantly illegal sentence.
Former prosecutor and governor, Tom Corbett, said we cannot pick and choose what laws we will or will not obey, but this is exactly what he, other prosecutors, and judges in Pennsylvania began doing in 1974. They chose to disobey our mandatory sentencing laws at §9756. How can there be justice for all when the government refuses to obey its own laws? When will Pennsylvania reach the level of humanity necessary to redress such grievous injustices?