Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Juvenile life without parole argued before Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the issue of juvenile life without parole.  According to the New York Times, a majority of Court appeared prepared to take an additional step in limiting such punishments, but it was not clear whether it would be modest or large.

In the last decade, the Court created a excptions, based on age, the nature of the offense and whether judges and juries have discretion to show leniency, when it comes to punishment of juveniles.
In 2005, in Roper v. Simmons, the court abolished the juvenile death penalty; in 2010, in Graham v. Florida, the court ruled that sentencing juvenile offenders to life without the possibility of parole also violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment — but only for crimes that did not involve killings.
The majority opinions in both cases were written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who said teenagers deserved more lenient treatment than adults because they are immature, impulsive, susceptible to peer pressure and able to change for the better over time, reported the Times.
The two cases the justices considered concerned defendants who were 14 when they were involved in killings.
One case, Miller v. Alabama, No. 10-9646, involved Evan Miller, an Alabama man who was 14 in 2003 when he and an older youth beat a 52-year-old neighbor and set fire to his home after the three had spent the evening smoking marijuana  and playing drinking games. The neighbor died of smoke inhalation.

The other, Jackson v. Hobbs, No. 10-9647, concerned Kuntrell Jackson, an Arkansas man who was 14 when he and two older youths tried to rob a video store in 1999. One of the other youths shot and killed a store clerk.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg responded that there were important values on Mr. Jackson’s side, too.
“You say the sanctity of human life,” she said reported the Times, “but you’re dealing with a 14-year-old being sentenced to life in prison, so he will die in prison without any hope. I mean, essentially, you’re making a 14-year-old throwaway person.”       

John C. Neiman Jr., Alabama’s solicitor general, said the sorts of parole hearings that Mr. Stevenson sought imposed burdens.
“There’s really no cost to society at least in allowing that process to occur,” Mr. Neiman said reported the Times, “but the cost is to the victims and their families, who have to endure what are often very painful hearings.”
According to the Times, much of the argument concerned the lines the court might draw. It could prohibit sentences of life without parole for offenders younger than 15. Or it could bar the punishment for all juvenile offenders, which would affect more than 2,000 prisoners.

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