Federal public defenders ordered to handle challenges

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The chief federal judge for Western Pennsylvania on Thursday issued an order setting up a process by which prisoners sentenced to life without parole for murders committed as juveniles can get legal representation to challenge those sentences.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Sean McLaughlin in his order appointed the office of the federal public defender to handle habeas corpus petitions filed under the Supreme Court's Miller v. Alabama decision.

That decision, issued last summer, made unconstitutional mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles.

Some appeals of life sentences for juvenile murders are moving through state courts, while a handful have been filed in federal court.

If prisoners file their own habeas corpus writs challenging the constitutionality of life sentences without parole, the court will steer them to the public defender for representation, according to the order.

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