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New Hampshire men sentenced as teens to life in prison granted new hearings

By Ted Siefer

MANCHESTER N.H. (Reuters) - New Hampshire's highest court has ruled that four men serving life in prison for murders committed when they were teenagers have the right to new sentencing hearings because of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In a ruling on Friday, the New Hampshire Supreme Court held that the 2012 decision, Miller v. Alabama, applied retroactively to the four men, who were all 17 when they were found guilty of murder in separate cases between 1993 and 2007.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that laws that give those under age 18 automatic life sentences without the possibility of parole violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual" punishment.

The ruling did not bar such sentences outright, but it held that they can only be meted out after mitigating factors, including a defendant's age, are taken into consideration.

New Hampshire joins Florida, Mississippi, Iowa, Massachusetts and several other states where high courts have determined that the Miller v. Alabama ruling is retroactive.

Courts in other states, including Alabama, where the case originated, have denied requests for new sentencing hearings for prisoners convicted when they were juveniles.

The Miller decision did not explicitly state whether it should be applied retroactively.

Sentencing reform advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union have pushed for the abolishment of laws that treat juveniles the same as adults in murder cases.

The ACLU's New Hampshire chapter praised Friday's ruling, while calling for the repeal of all such laws.

"The court affirmed the principle that, as any parent knows, children are different than adults and therefore should constitutionally be treated differently when being sentenced," the group said in a statement.

Steven Spader, a New Hampshire man convicted in the slashing murder of a mother in her suburban home in 2009, is not among the four men seeking new sentencing hearings.

Although he was 17 when the crime occurred, he declined to have his life sentence reconsidered after the Supreme Court ruling.

(Reporting by Ted Siefer; Editing by Frank McGurty and Eric Beech)

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