The Supreme Court on Thursday shot down a Mississippi man’s bid to overturn a life sentence he got for killing his grandfather at age 15 — with the majority ruling that a judge does not have to find a defendant beyond rehabilitation to issue such a term, New York Post reports.
The Court voted 6-3, splitting along conservative-liberal lines, to uphold the sentence of Brett Jones, who fatally stabbed the 68-year-old man.
Jones was convicted of murder in 2005, sentenced to life without parole, and resentenced in 2015. The sentencing judge made no finding as to whether Jones was “permanently incorrigible” or could be rehabilitated.
Jones argued that sentencing a minor to life without parole required a judge to make such a finding, but the court rejected his reasoning. Mississippi, where Jones was convicted, is one of only six states that does not require finding of permanent incorrigibility for a life sentence sans parole.
“Jones’ argument that the sentence must make a finding of permanent incorrigibility is inconsistent with the court’s precedents,” wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh for the majority.
“The court’s precedents do not require an on-the-record sentencing explanation with an implicit finding of permanent incorrigibility.”
Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer dissented. Sotomayor called Kavanaugh’s opinion hypocritical and self-serving, writing, “Now, it seems, the court is willing to overrule precedent without even acknowledging it is doing so, much less providing any special justification. It is hard to see how that approach is ‘founded in the law rather than in the proclivities of individuals.’”
Jones’ lawyer argued that his client, now 31, deserved at least a chance at parole after over the course of 15 years has modeled the behavior of a rehabilitated prisoner, earning his high school diploma behind bars.
With Thursday’s ruling, his earliest prospect of conditional release will be in 29 years when he turns 60.
Since ruling the death penalty an unconstitutional punishment for minors in 2005, the Supreme Court has issued a series of decisions barring the harshest sentences for those under 18.
In 2012, the court disallowed life sentences without parole for minors except in murder cases, and even those should be reserved “for all but the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.”