No Life Sentences For Kids

June 26, 2012


The US Supreme Court determined Monday that sentencing children to life in prison without parole violates the 8th Amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.  


“The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision didn't rule out the possibility of a juvenile defendant receiving life without parole, but justices in the majority want such a decision to be up to a court's discretion, not mandated by a state legislature. Even in juvenile cases, there will be rare instances that justify a harsh punishment.

Two cases prompted Monday's decision. The first, Miller v. Alabama, concerned Evan Miller, who was 14 years old when he beat a 52-year-old neighbor named Cole Cannon with a baseball bat and then, with the help of a 16-year-old friend, set Cannon's house on fire. Cannon had been doing drugs and drinking with the boys and had attacked them first when he caught the boys trying to steal from him.

Miller's friend testified for the prosecution and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Miller's life was a nightmare: a series of foster homes, an alcoholic and drug-addicted mother, and a physically abusive stepfather. He had tried to kill himself four times, the first when he was only 6.

In the other case, Jackson v. Arkansas, Kuntrell Jackson was 14 when he and two friends tried to rob a video store. The store's clerk was killed during the botched robbery.

Jackson was not on a good track — he had a record of shoplifting and car theft — but he was unarmed and did not shoot the clerk. Nonetheless, he was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

This is the third significant Supreme Court case regarding harsh penalties for juveniles.

The court declared the death penalty for juveniles unconstitutional in 2005. In 2010, the court ruled that sentencing juveniles to life without parole for non-homicide crimes violated the Eighth Amendment.

The Supreme Court's decisions regarding juvenile defendants follow science's deeper understanding of the differences between juvenile and adult brains.

Juveniles are not as culpable as adults. They are impulsive, reckless and often fail to think through the consequences.

A harsh sentence fails to consider a teenager's immaturity, the role of peer pressure and family background, and cuts short the possibility of change and redemption.”