- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey’s highest court ruled Wednesday that juveniles can’t receive the practical equivalent of life sentences without parole unless the sentencing judge considers their age and its “attendant characteristics.”

The state Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling stemmed from appeals filed by two men who were both 17 when they were convicted of serious crimes and received lengthy prison terms. The decision means both men can seek re-sentencings.

Citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the New Jersey court found sentencing judges should take into account “how children are different” from adults and how those differences “counsel against sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.”

One of the defendants received 110 years in prison - with 55 years of parole ineligibility - for his roles in two separate gang rapes. That meant he would have been about 72 before he could seek parole.

The other defendant took part in four armed robberies, including one where an accomplice shot and killed a victim. The defendant got 75 years overall with no chance for parole for more than 68 years, meaning he wasn’t eligible for parole until he was 85 years old.

Alexander Shalom, a senior staff attorney with the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union who represented one of the defendants, praised the ruling.

“This decision is a watershed moment for the rights of juveniles nationally and an important step in ending mass incarceration in New Jersey,” Shalom said. “These two men who were sentenced as teenagers will now be able to go before a judge and argue for their release before they’ve become old men.”

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