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New Hampshire decision affects those charged as juveniles

A court decision in New Hampshire has been called a landmark ruling in its unanimous move to dismiss mandatory life-sentences without parole for offending juveniles. The decision claims the sentences were unconstitutional and allows for serving life without parole to be retroactive.

According to reports, there are more than 2,000 prisoners in the U.S. who are serving mandatory life sentences without possibility of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles.

The latest in the flurry of activity over such decisions dates back to a case in 2001 that centered on the murder of two Dartmouth College professors. The case outcome was recently revisited by the state Supreme Court, based on the premise that the four young men found guilty of murder deserved new sentencing hearings. A renewed opportunity to present evidence to the courts does not automatically imply a different outcome would be forthcoming.

In the wake of renewed attempts to appeal life sentences in cases with similar circumstances, three prisoners in the nearby state of Massachusetts were released. In the high-profile case of a New Hampshire couple murdered in their Hanover home, the convicted perpetrators of the murder were two teens from a Vermont town about 30 miles away from the scene of the crime.

Court documents indicate the two young men gained access to the house after presenting a bogus story about conducting an environmental survey. The couple was brutally stabbed and the case gained notoriety for the gruesome nature of the attack.

At the 2002 trial, one teenager, age 17, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and the other teen settled via a plea bargain. Legal spokespersons for clients charged with similar offenses claim the decision is a positive one, as it gives them a chance to get a reduced sentence with the possibility of parole. Previously, their first-degree convictions made them serve life-sentences.

New Hampshire is the seventh state to rule that the decision applies retroactively, although reaction from other states has been mixed.

If you are facing criminal charges in New Hampshire, it can be a frightening time for you. Making sure you obtain the optimum criminal defense will enable you to protect your rights. A knowledgeable professional who stays current in criminal law is your best pathway to intelligently address your unique needs and extenuating circumstances for a crime committed as a juvenile.

Source: The Boston Globe, "Dartmouth professors’ murderer to get new sentence" Peter Schworm, Aug. 29, 2014

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