Juvenile Life Sentences Go Before Supreme Court

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on November 10, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For the second time in two years, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether juvenile life sentences violate the 8th Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

At issue is whether life without parole is an appropriate sentence for young juveniles whose crimes result in homicide. The Court will hear Miller v. Alabama and Arkansas' Jackson v. Hobbes, both of which involved 14-year-old defendants.

Therefore, the Court's decision will be limited to defendants aged 14 and younger.

As of this moment, courts may not:

  1. Impose the death penalty upon defendants younger than 18 (Roper v. Simmons, 2005); or
  2. Impose life without parole upon defendants younger than 18 for non-homicide offenses (Graham v. Florida, 2010).

Graham will likely play a big part in the Court's upcoming discussion. Though 37 states allowed non-homicide juvenile life sentences, only 129 offenders had received such a sentence. Seventy-seven of them were in Florida, while the other 52 were spread amongst 10 states and the federal government.

The Supreme Court gave this great weight, as it demonstrated a national consensus against non-homicide life sentences for juveniles. Such a consensus appears to be present in the instance cases.

Only 73 prisoners are currently serving life without parole for homicides committed when they were 14 or younger, according to the Los Angeles Times. And only 19 states have permitted such sentencing, but California has recently changed its law.

Based solely on this comparison, it's probable that homicide-related juvenile life sentences will soon cease to exist for young defendants.

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