This past June, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a 5 to 4 decision in the case Miller v. Alabama, ruling that adolescents younger than 18 could not be sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole. While this decision does leave a life sentence without parole as a possibility for minors, it is only permitted if a judge or jury determines that such a sentence is suitable in that particular case. There are strict statutes in place in Oklahoma that detail whether a criminal offender should be considered a juvenile or adult in the eyes of the law. If your child has been accused of a criminal offense in Oklahoma, contact our experienced criminal defense lawyers at Atkins & Markoff for legal help. Our law firm is located in Oklahoma City, and our criminal defense attorneys can help protect your child’s legal rights throughout his or her case.
JUVENILE VS. ADULT OFFENSES IN OKLAHOMA
Determining whether a minor Oklahoma offender should be considered a juvenile or adult is an important consideration that can have a profound effect on a minor’s charges, conviction and punishment. The Miller v Alabama decision is the latest in a line of cases dating back 25 years in which the Supreme Court has put more stringent restrictions on the situations in which minors can receive the most extreme punishments for crimes. In the 1988 case, Thompson v Oklahoma, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on defendants that were younger than 16 at the time of their offense, on the grounds that the penalty was considered “cruel and unusual punishment.”
JUVENILES AND CULPABILITY
“Inexperience, less education, and less intelligence make the teenager less able to evaluate the consequences of his or her conduct while at the same time he or she is much more apt to be motivated by mere emotion or peer pressure than is an adult,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority in the 1988 case, which involved a 15-year-old accused of kidnapping and killing his sister’s husband. “The reasons why juveniles are not trusted with the privileges and responsibilities of an adult also explain why their irresponsible conduct is not as morally reprehensible as that of an adult.” The minor was found responsible for his deeds, convicted by the District Court of Grady County, and sentenced to death by an Oklahoma jury, before an appeal to the Supreme Court effectively reversed the decision.
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In the years since Stevens’ decision, extensive research has supported the judge’s conclusion regarding adolescent behavior and culpability. In 2005, the Supreme Court deemed capital punishment for minors to be cruel and unusual punishment and thus unconstitutional, basing a reduced culpability analysis on three aspects of adolescence: an adolescent’s character is not well-formed, immaturity with impulsivity, and vulnerability to adverse environmental factors. In 2010, the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional to sentence minors to life without parole for crimes less severe than murder. In cases involving less serious crimes, psychiatric assessments may be beneficial in arguing that a case should be tried in juvenile court, where the penalties are usually less severe. If your child is facing criminal charges in Oklahoma, our criminal defense attorneys at Atkins & Markoff can work to have his or her charges reduced, dismissed, or at least brought in juvenile court instead of adult court.