Monday, June 25, 2012

Supreme Court strikes down juvenile life without parole

The Supreme Court struck down as cruel and unusual punishment the laws in about 28 states that mandated a life term for murderers under age 18, reported the Washington Post. Pennsylvania has about 480 offenders serving life for offenses committed as juveniles, more than any other state.

The justices ruled in the cases of two 14-year-olds who were given life terms for their role in a homicide, but their decision goes further. It applies to all those under 18. It does not automatically free any prisoner, and it does not forbid life terms for young murderers.

The court’s opinion does not say whether its ruling applies only to future sentences, or whether it could give a new hearing to the more than 2,000 prisoners who are serving life terms for earlier murders.

According to the Post, Justice Elena Kagan referred to state laws that “mandated each juvenile (convicted of murder) die in prison even if the judge or jury would have thought that his youth and…the nature of his crime made a lesser sentence (for example, life with the possibility of parole) more appropriate.”

“We therefore hold that mandatory life without parole for those under age of 18 at the time of their crime violates the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments,” she said. Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor agreed, reported the Post.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. dissented. “Put simply, 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.” Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined in dissent.

To read more:,0,601985.story

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