Monday, May 11, 2009

Juvenile Life Sentences to U.S. Supreme Court

In September 2005, the Supreme Court declared the death penalty "cruel & unusual punishment" for juvenile offenders under the age of 18 and unconstitutional in Roper v. Simmons. This, the Court had said, by its "having established the propriety, and affirmed the necessity, of referring to 'the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society' to determine which punishments are so disproportionate as to be 'cruel & unusual.'"

"When a juvenile commits a heinous crime," the Court said, "the State can exact forfeiture of some of the most basic liberties, but the State cannot extinguish his life and his potential to attain a mature understanding of his own humanity. While drawing the line at 18 is subject to the objections always raised against categorical rules, that is the point where society draws the line for many purposes between childhood and adulthood and the age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest."

Last Monday, it announced that it would consider whether sentencing juveniles to life in prison terms without parole was similarly unjust. ( See Sullivan v. Florida, 08-7621 and Graham v. Florida, 08-7412 )

Wikipedia's article on "life imprisonment" notes that "a few countries worldwide allow for minors to be given lifetime sentences with no provision for eventual release, (but) of these, only the United States actually has minors serving such sentences, according to an updated 2008 joint study by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International." According to that study, while Ohio doesn’t have any minors serving life sentences at the time (2008), Indiana has two, and Kentucky five.

The Supreme Court abolished capital punishment for juveniles under the age of 16 in 1988 ( Thompson v. Oklahoma ) before eliminating it altogether with Roper in 2005, and it banned the death penalty for the mentally retarded in 2002 with Adkins v. Virginia. Now there is seen to be a growing consensus that there are numerous parallels said to be between Roper; Adkins, and the current cases. (i.e., see CNN articles Here and Here, the New York Times Here, and article Here )

Those articles refer to a number of studies & papers including those by:

The Supreme Court has held that for convicted felons committing another, or other, felonies, that life sentences do not constitute “cruel & unusual punishment,” but this hasn’t been applied to juvenile offenders before. “Outside of the death-penalty context,” CNN writes, “the Supreme Court has provided little recent guidance on how to treat the youngest of underage criminal defendants, and the appellate record is almost nonexistent.”

1 comment:

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