Supreme Court Rules that Life Imprisonment Without Parole for Minors is Unconstitutional

Posted on May 23, 2010 in Courts, National Issues, Personal Injury

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that it is unconstitutional for a court to sentence a minor to life imprisonment without parole unless he or she commits murder. The Supreme Court ruled that such sentences are disproportionately harsh and can, therefore, be classified as cruel and unusual punishment. This decision builds upon the 2005 Supreme Court ruling that renders the death penalty unconstitutional for minors. The Supreme Court supports its decision by arguing that minors are less culpable than adults because they are still developing. Consequently, it is impossible to determine whether or not a minor has the potential to successfully function in society later in life. By sentencing a minor to life imprisonment, the court would be denying the young person the right to prove his ability to contribute to society once he has “demonstrate[ed] that he is fit to rejoin society.” This decision, however, does not require states to release juveniles who have previously been sentenced to life imprisonment, but rather, mandates that states must allow these individuals the opportunity to obtain release based on maturity, growth, and good behavior.

Zoë Clements is a student at Tulane University. She can be reached by email at zclement@tulane.edu.

  • Annette Rozier

    I’m wondering how we make sure that the new mandate is being executed in each state. I’m in Illinois. Does it go on a case by case basis? Does every prisoner who meets these criteria have to appeal on their own?

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