Some juveniles convicted of crimes have received prison sentences of life without parole.
An Alabama case changed that in 2012 and since Miller v. State of Alabama made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, some defendants sentenced to life imprisonment are coming up for hearings to see if the sentence was justified. One such case was heard in Dadeville on Thursday.
“It is the only one I know of in the circuit,” Fifth Judicial Circuit district attorney Jeremy Duerr said. “The defendant brought this forward.”
The Fifth Judicial Circuit in Alabama covers five courthouses in Tallapoosa, Macon, Chambers and Randolph counties and has sentenced thousands to prison terms over the years.
According to The Sentencing Project, 2,310 people were serving life without parole sentences at the end of 2016. Danny Ash is one of those. Ash pleaded guilty to capital murder-kidnapping when he was 18 years old in June 1983 for the May 1982 killing of 6-year-old Wendy Mancil in the Macedonia community near Carrville and Tallassee.
Pennsylvania, Michigan and Louisiana account for two-thirds of cases according to The Sentencing Project as 28 states allowed the sentence prior to the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
It deemed the sentence unconstitutional for juvenile offenders and required the review of sentences already in place directing judges to consider the unique circumstances of each offender.
The Sentencing Project states 79% of the 2,310 offenders witnessed violence in their homes regularly; 32% grew up in public housing; 40% had been enrolled in special education; fewer than half were attending school at the time of their offense; 47% were physically abused; 80% of the girls reported histories of physical abuse; and 77% of girls reported histories of sexual abuse.
In the 2012 ruling U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan said juveniles were often marked by “immaturity, impetuosity and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.”
Thursday’s hearing participants were not even practicing law at the time of the original legal proceedings in 1982 and 1983.
“We had to study up on it,” Duerr said. “It is definitely rare.”