NYTimes Alert:

Justices Bar Life Terms for Youths Who Haven’t Killed

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court said that sentences of
life without possibility of parole for crimes other than
homicide that were committed when the offender was under the
age of 18 are unconstitutional. The decision, in a Florida
case involving an armed burglary conviction, said such
sentences violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and
unusual punishment

Some criminals in their teens are just as vicious as adults. Why should they get a pass because of age?

Justice Kennedy was the swing vote.

According to Sciencemag.org:

Juveniles who have not committed murder should not be locked up for life, according to a U.S. Supreme Court decision today. In the case of Graham v. Florida, the court says it considered brain and behavioral science in deciding that life sentences for most young criminals amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

The decision extends a 2005 decision (Roper v. Simmons) banning the death penalty for juveniles. Amicus briefs submitted to the court by the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, and others questioned whether youths should be held to the same standards of culpability as adults given research suggesting that their brains are not yet fully mature.

In its decision, the court says it took this data into consideration:

No recent data provide reason to reconsider the Courts observations in Roper about the nature of juveniles. As petitioners amici point out, developments in psychology and brain science continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds. For example, parts of the brain involved in behavior control continue to mature through late adolescence. … Juveniles are more capable of change than are adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of irretrievably depraved character than are the actions of adults.


8 Thoughts to “Supreme Court Bars Life in Prison for Youth Who Have Not Killed”

  1. What about a kid who beats someone so bad, the victim gets brain damaged, is paralyzed or something akin to that? I don’t think a one-size-fits-all mandate is appropriate here.

  2. Rick Bentley

    I’m with you. And I don’t think this type of judicial activism is appropriate.

  3. marinm

    This story is interesting but the SCOTUS 7-2 ruling on indefinate detentions of sexually dangerous offenders will probably get more play.

    I haven’t read the actual rulings but wanted to post some background on the case.

    Issue: Whether the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments prohibits the imprisonment of a juvenile for life without the possibility of parole for committing a non-homicide (armed burglary).

    Background: This case is a step removed from the high court’s 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons that a death sentence for someone younger than 18 years old is cruel and unusual as defined by the Eighth Amendment. Florida is like most states that allow life without parole sentences for juveniles even when the underlying crime did not result in someone’s death. But Florida is unique in that it appears to be home to the vast majority of prisoners who fit this category.

    Terrance Graham was 16-years-old when he pled guilty to armed burglary. He was eventually released from jail and on probation when he busted into a man’s home and robbed him at gunpoint. A judge concluded that Graham violated his probation, wasted his second chance at freedom and was a significant threat to society. The judge sentenced Graham to life in prison with no chance of parole.

    Graham’s lawyers argue the reasoning behind the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Roper is the same that should extend to their client. Namely that like the mentally retarded, juveniles are “categorically less culpable than the average criminal” and that when compared to adults juveniles “cannot with reliability be classified among the worst offenders” when it comes to imposing the harshest of sentences.

    Florida argues the severity of Graham’s sentence was “not grossly disproportionate to [the] violent crimes against [his] vulnerable victims.” The state further argues that Graham’s crime was so severe that even he didn’t challenge his treatment as an adult offender. Florida also dismisses attempts to extend Roper’s prohibition to life sentences saying that doing so is “compelled neither by legal logic nor by societal norms.”

    There is a significant following in this case from varying interest groups who’ve submitted briefs supporting both sides. Perhaps the most interesting brief is from seven now successful men (including actor Charles Dutton and former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson) who were lawbreaking teenagers and are “living, breathing testaments to the resiliency, adaptability, and rehabilitative potential of juvenile offenders.”

    I think if the ‘without parole’ condition is eliminated I think it would pass muster. But, again I’d have to see what the 7 justices wrote. This case is interesting in that the SCOTUS looked beyond US law to come to it’s conclusion.

  4. This ruling is dead wrong. Young people can commit heinous crimes long before their 18 birthday. I think this was a horrible ruling.

  5. Lucky Duck

    Would anyone want John Malvo as a neighbor when he comes up for parole, no matter how old he may be? A thought to consider…

    1. Excellent point. Lucky Duck, will the Supreme Court decision be retroactive to all those who were given a life sentence before their 18th birthday?

      Also is it their age at the time the crime was committed or their age at the time of sentencing. Malvo was a minor and he got a life sentence, didn’t he?

      However, there was a murder conviction which would make him exempt?

  6. Lucky Duck

    This is similar to when the Supreme Court threw out the death penalty in the early 70’s, every sentence was tossed. So those juveniles who were convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole will have to be re-sentenced. Prosecutors in Florida, which has the most juveniles in this situation, are trying to determine the best way to move forward. They are looking at potential plea agreements in the sentencing area and/or re-sentencing of individuals.
    Yes, Malvo was convicted of murder, so he will stay. I was using it as an example of the type of person who could potentially be set free, my fault.

    In one case in Florida, three men, one a juvenile, kidnapped and raped two women. The acknowledge ring leader was a juvenile under 15. The two adults got life without parole as did the juvenile. Now he may be in a position in the future to be potentially released in time. Who, in their right mind, would want this guy near their family?

  7. I thought Malvo was a good example even though he didn’t fit this particular case. Some of the juvenile crime is every bit as heinous as adult crime. I sure don’t want anyone out who has committed crime violent enough to get life for. What are the Supremes thinking!!!!!

    I wish there were a way to get a supreme court justice who didn’t want in everyone’s bedroom and still had common sense. Is that too much to ask for?

    Lucky Duck, no one!!! Too bad he couldn’t have gotten the death penalty. I have no problem doing the DP thing on rapists or on juveniles if the have raped, tortured or murdered.

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