Gov. Tom Corbett should sign a bill that gives Pennsylvania judges some flexibility when sentencing juveniles convicted of murder.
Existing Pennsylvania law runs afoul of a U.S. Supreme Court decision issued June 25 that stated that automatic life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder are unconstitutional.
Life sentences still are possible under the ruling, but the nation's top court said judges must have the ability to consider a lesser sentence if there are mitigating factors.
That currently is not an option in our state. There are only two possible punishments for first-degree murder: execution or life in prison (although juveniles cannot be given the death penalty), while conviction of second-degree murder means an automatic life sentence.
Senate Bill 850 would bring Pennsylvania into compliance with the court's June decision by creating minimum prison sentences for juveniles convicted of first- or second-degree murder.
Defendants 14 years old and younger would face at least 25 years behind bars for first-degree murder or 20 years for second-degree murder. Those ages 15 to 17 would face imprisonment for a minimum of 35 years for first-degree murder and 25 years for second-degree murder. Judges would have an option to sentence those convicted up to life in prison.
The proposed legislation only affects people who were juveniles when they committed their crimes. Adults still would face the automatic life sentences or possible execution in first-degree cases.
SB 850 provides an appropriate balance in bringing the Keystone State into compliance with the court decision, while ensuring juveniles convicted of the most serious homicide charges still face lengthy prison terms at a minimum.
It's worthy of the governor's signature.