WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court made it easier Thursday to sentence minors convicted of murder to life in prison without the possibility of parole, a ruling that reflects a change in course driven by a more conservative group of justices.
In a dissent, a liberal justice accused her colleagues of gutting earlier decisions that said life without parole sentences for people under age 18 should be rare.
The current case, which involved a Mississippi inmate and a crime committed when he was 15, asked the justices whether a minor has to be found to be “permanently incorrigible,” incapable of being rehabilitated, before being sentenced to life without parole.
In a 6-3 decision that split the justices along ideological lines, the court said no. The ruling followed more than a decade in which the court moved gradually toward more leniency for minors convicted of murder.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the majority, said previous decisions only require a judge to consider “an offender’s youth and attendant characteristics” before imposing a sentence of life without parole. Kavanaugh rejected a more demanding standard.
The “argument that the sentencer must make a finding of permanent incorrigibility is inconsistent with the Court’s precedents,” Kavanaugh wrote for himself and Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett.