The U.S. Supreme Court ruling outlawing mandatory life sentences for juveniles strikes a North Carolina law enforcing such a punishment against convicted killers.
The decision means at least two dozen young prisoners -- and likely dozens more -- who are serving life terms without parole should get new sentences, said Mary Pollard, the executive director of N.C. Prisoner Legal Services.
But the ruling, legal experts caution, does not mean juveniles convicted under the state's law requiring life behind bars without parole in murder convictions will get released.
The state legislature will need to amend the law and develop new sentencing guidelines that give the judges discretion and direction on when to apply life terms without parole for juveniles. For current offenders, the courts will develop an appeal system under the new SCOTUS decision.
"Just because life without parole can't be mandated, it doesn't mean it still can't be imposed," said Tamar Birckhead, an associated professor of law at UNC School of Law, who estimates the ruling could affect as many as 80 juveniles in prison.