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Ear to the Ground

Court Limits No-Parole Life Terms for Juveniles

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Posted on Jun 26, 2012
Phil Roeder (CC BY 2.0)

Almost two dozen legal and human rights groups argued that locking up children and throwing away the key is inhumane and unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole for juveniles convicted of murder. The 5-4 vote found that such sentences constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

Los Angeles Times:

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.

Nonetheless, it is an important victory for those who have objected to imposing very long prison terms on very young offenders.

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.

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.

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