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U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Prison Sentences of Life Without Parole for Youth

Posted June 25, 2012 to Blog, Juvenile Justice | Comments (0)

In addition to today’s SB 1070 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court also issued an extremely important decision in Miller v. Alabama which bans mandatory sentences of life without parole for youth who commit homicide while under the age of 18.

Although the ruling does not completely ban life without parole sentences for youth, it ensures that such punishments can only be imposed on a case-by-case basis. The ruling strikes down statutes currently in place in 29 states, including Arizona. The decision appears to require state courts to conduct new sentencing hearings where judges will have to consider children’s individual characters and life circumstances, including age, as well as the circumstances of the crime.  Arizona has an estimated 36 persons with life without parole sentences based on crimes committed prior to their 18 birthday. 

While we need to do much more to support struggling families and prevent crimes from occurring, CAA is pleased with the court’s decision that recognizes a youth’s potential for rehabilitation, growth and transformation.  In the 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment and prior case law prohibit mandates that sentence juveniles to life without parole for any offense. The reasoning, in part, is that youth are less culpable because of their age and developmental attributes even when they commit very serious crimes — in other words, the punishment of life without parole is inappropriately harsh for youth as a class — and that because life without parole is very similar to a death sentence, youth involved in such cases are     entitled to individualized consideration.

To see the full opinion, go here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-9646g2i8.pdf.  For a helpful analysis of the opinion, see the SCOTUS blog at http://www.scotusblog.com/2012/06/eighth-amendment-prohibits-mandatory-life-without-parole-for-juveniles/.

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