June 25, 2012

Justices Block Mandatory Life Terms for Juveniles

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that states may not impose mandatory life sentences without parole on juveniles, even if they have been convicted of taking part in a murder.
“The justices ruled in a 5-to-4 decision that such sentencing for those under 18 violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling left open the possibility of judges’ sentencing juveniles to life imprisonment without parole in individual circumstances but said state laws could not automatically impose such sentences.”
Speaking for the majority Justice Elena Kagan claimed, “Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age… and prevents taking into account the family and home environment.” The two cases at issue were Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama, which both involve 14-year-old boys who had taken part in murders in Arkansas and Alabama. Chief Justice John G. Roberts writing for the dissent insisted “if a 17-year old is convicted of deliberately murdering an innocent victim, it is not ‘unusual’ for the murderer to receive a mandatory sentence of life without parole.”