- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2020

A 15-year-old who killed his grandfather and was sentenced to life in prison without parole will have his fight for a lighter punishment for juveniles heard by the Supreme Court next term, which kicks off in October.

In 2004, Brett Jones stabbed his grandfather in a fight over his girlfriend, who the grandfather caught in Jones‘ bedroom.

He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He unsuccessfully appealed the punishment, attempting to claim he had improved his mental health and behavior while incarcerated. Because he was brought up in an abusive household, Jones was hoping the court would not deny him the possibility of ever being freed.

Lower courts sided against Jones, but his attorneys argue that there is a split in various states about whether the Eighth Amendment requires a court to find a juvenile cannot be reformed before sentencing them to life without parole.

“Findings are crucial to juvenile life-without-parole sentences just as they are crucial to death sentences,” Jones‘ attorney argued in court documents. “Without a finding that a given juvenile is irreparably corrupt, there remains ‘a grave risk’ that corrigible juveniles will be sentenced to life without parole and thereby held in violation of the Constitution.”

The high court announced Monday it will settle the dispute. The case is likely to be heard during the justices’ next term, which begins in October and runs through June 2021.

The move comes after the justices were set to rule this year on a case involving a man who was convicted for the string of shootings known as the D.C. sniper attacks.

Lee Boyd Malvo argued he should get a new sentencing hearing, given he was 17 during the 2002 shooting spree that left 10 people dead.

Malvo’s accomplice, 41-year-old John Allen Muhammad, was put to death by injection in 2009.

At issue in Malvo’s case was a 2012 high court ruling that held the sentencing of juvenile homicide offenders to life in prison without parole violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

In 2016, the justices applied their 2012 ruling to a case involving a man who was sentenced to life without parole in Louisiana for a crime he committed when he was 17.

In that ruling, the court said only “the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption” may be sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole.

Based on both the 2012 and 2016 cases, Malvo argued Virginia should have to reevaluate his sentence.

But his case was dismissed after Virginia changed its law applying to juveniles and life sentences, which now allows parole eligibility after an individual serves 20 years of a life sentence for a crime committed as a juvenile.

Jones‘ case will give the justices a new chance to revisit the issue.

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