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Supreme Court declines cases on abortion doctors, juvenile sentencing
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The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington.
Catholic News Service photo
The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington.
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court declined June 23 to get involved in a case over a Wisconsin law that requires abortion clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

The act leaves in place a lower court injunction that blocks the law from being implemented while it is being challenged in court.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Affiliated Medical Services, the two abortion providers in the state, sued to block the 2013 law, saying the requirement for doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital  within 30 miles would force clinics in Milwaukee and Appleton to close.

Last summer, Wisconsin federal judges issued and affirmed a preliminary injunction blocking the provision while the lawsuit proceeds, saying there was substantial likelihood that the challenge to the law would succeed. The trial on the lawsuit's merits has proceeded, but as of June 23 there had not been a ruling.

In another case, the court declined to consider whether its 2012 ruling that stopped the practice of sentencing juveniles to life in prison without chance of parole could be retroactively applied.

That case involves Zachary Witman, who was convicted of murdering his 13-year-old brother, Gregory, in 1998. Witman was 15 at the time he was charged with murder. A guilty plea would have resulted in his sentencing in juvenile court and his probable release a few years later. But Witman, who has maintained his innocence, declined to agree to a plea bargain and was prosecuted as an adult. His conviction resulted in a sentence of life imprisonment without parole.

The Witman family unsuccessfully sought a new trial. The petition before the court asked for a ruling on whether the 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama, retroactively applied. The ruling found that the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, applied when juveniles are sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole.

In their appeal, the family noted that under sentencing guidelines, the court that sentenced Witman "could not consider Zach's age or maturity; his ability to appreciate risk and consequences; the apparent randomness of the crime; his family and home environment; and whether he could be treated and rehabilitated. It could not even consider the wishes of Zach's parents, also victims of the crime, who supported Zach throughout, and who, were they allowed to speak at sentencing, would have begged for a lesser sentence, describing their 15-year old son to the court and explaining why he did not deserve to be sent away for life."

It pointed out that if Witman's case was still on direct appeal when Miller was decided, his sentence would be unconstitutional and resentencing would be mandatory.

The court had no comment in denying either case.

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