Supreme Court Restricts Life Sentences for Juveniles

Posted on May 26, 2010 in Courts, National Issues

The Supreme Court ruled Monday May 17, 2010 that juveniles could no longer be handed down life sentences for crimes other than murders. In a 5-4 decision, the court decided that there must be “a meaningful opportunity to obtain release” for prisoners that are tried as adults while they are juveniles.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. It emphasized the difference between a child and an adult in the judicial system and stressed that children must be dealt with in a special manner. The Supreme Court made this decision on the case of Terrance Graham, who was found guilty of armed robbery twice when he was 16 and 17. Graham, now 23, is incarcerated in Florida, which currently accounts for 60 percent of juveniles imprisoned for life for crimes other than murder. Currently, however, there are only 129 such cases in the United States. Other states that impose these sentences are California, Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia.

Dissenting opinions came from Justice Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Both saw this ruling as problematic as it creates federal prison standards for state justice departments and both saw this as unnecessarily intrusive.

Kennedy justifies his decision: “The state has denied him any chance to later demonstrate that he is fit to rejoin society based solely on a non-homicide crime that he committed while he was a child in the eyes of the law. This the Eighth Amendment does not permit.” The Eighth Amendment deals with excessive bail, fines and cruel and unusual punishment. In this decision, the Court must have determined that it is cruel and unusual punishment to imprison a child for a non-murder crime for the entirety of their lives.

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