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On Thursday, the highest court in the US ruled 6-3 along liberal-conservative lines against Mississippi inmate Brett Jones who was sentenced to life in prison when he was 15 years old.
Jones was sentenced to prison without the possibility of parole in 2005, for fatally stabbing his grandfather Bertis in 2004 during a fight about his girlfriend.
He eventually took the case to the Supreme Court to challenge his sentence, claiming that he is not “permanently incorrigible”, with the oral hearings held in November 2020.
The Supreme Court voted on Thursday that Jones’s sentence stands, which marks a break with the court’s previous rulings starting in 2005 that said juveniles should be treated differently from adults because of their lack of maturity.
Those previous rulings resulted in the death penalty being eliminated for juveniles and the court stating in 2016 that life-without-parole (LWOP) sentences should be reserved “for all but the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility”.
Since those previous rulings were made, the court has lost two liberal-leaning judges crucial in such decisions. They have been replaced by Mr Trump’s nominees, who skew more conservative.
In a blistering dissent to the judges who voted against Mr Jones in the case, Justice Sotomayor, who was nominated to the position by former President Barack Obama, highlighted the implication of the decision.
Justice Sotomayor, who wrote the dissenting opinion with Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, wrote that the majority opinion is “an abrupt break from precedent”.
“Jones should know that, despite the Court’s decision today, what he does in life matters. So, too, do the efforts of the almost 1,500 other juvenile offenders like Jones who are serving LWOP sentences. Of course, nothing can repair the damage their crimes caused,” Ms Sotomayor continued.
“The question is whether the state, at some point, must consider whether a juvenile offender has demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation sufficient to merit a chance at life beyond the prison in which he has grown up.
“For most, the answer is yes.”
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.