Considering the Eighth Amendment and Juveniles

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A New York Times story examines the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court in the near future taking up the question of whether a life sentence for a killing committed by a juvenile constitutes a violation of the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

A year ago, the high court ruled such sentences did violate the Eighth Amendment in cases not involving a killing. According to the story by Adam Liptak and Lisa Faye Petak, such a decision would affect some 2,500 prisoners.


2 thoughts on “Considering the Eighth Amendment and Juveniles

  1. I read the Times article and the comments. It’s so hard to believe that people hold the opinions that they do when it comes to comments on the internet. It’s as though cruelty and brutality are the watchword. The Missouri case really is more about “overcharging” of juveniles than it is about lengthy sentences for murder. The case really appears to have been a manslaughter case – two brothers fighting and a quick thrust of a knife in anger by the smaller of the boys against the older boy. These cases are as old as the Bible and had the surviving boy not been black while the other was white, my guess is that the case would have been handled as a mansluaghter case and he would have seen five years in youth lockup instead of life without parole.

    But really, there seems to be too much emphasis on these life sentences, when a simple twist of the pen can turn these sentences into virtual life sentences, or apply them to far lesser crimes. Take Deonte Moore in Peoria, who at 13 committed a bank robbery with an empty gun, was immediately caught cowering in the alley and admitted his guilt. Judge Frederickson, the local juvenile hanging judge, certified the little boy up without so much as a psychological exam, based on a previous arrest where the boy go into an altercation with his caregiver grandmother while she was beating him. Twenty one years for a single robbery committed at age 13. No one got hurt. No one was injured – and everyone seems more concerned about these cases involving boys and girls who killed people. There are a lot of Deonte Moores out there – young children who might have easily been reformed but are going to emerge from decades behind bars crippled – no education, no job experience, a felony record and no chance for a employment. These kids – the ones in Peoria and Georgia and Florida – they really concern me. I’m not even talking about people 16 and over – I’m talking about children 14 and under.

    And let’s not forget about some of the cases involving 12 year olds. The Supreme Court actually had the opportunity to pass on one of those cases – Christopher Pittmen, who while involuntarily intoxicated with Zoloft killed his grandparents. He received 30 years. Might as well be life. If he survives 30 years behind bars, there won’t be much left of him when he emerges.

    And what of Paul Gingerich, who last month celebrated his 13th birthday at Pendleton in Indiana, with a 30 year sentence hanging over his head? He was just past his 12th birthday when an older, emotionally distrubed youth convinced the child to participate in a crime that turned into a murder. Gingerich was actually sentenced to Wabash State Prison by Judge Reed, but the state even balked at sending a very small, slight 12 year old to the adult facility — especially after what happened to Reed Blake there – the boy who celebrated his 15th birthday in solitary confinement at Wabash for fighting off sexual predators. Pendleton is one of the worst youth facilities in the nation, but at least it’s better than Wabash.

    America has been locking small children up at an alarming rate, and the consequences will only come to pass as they grow up and emerge from these facilities. Some might age out of crime – but with no ability to cope or survive on the outside, they will end up as lifetime criminals and/or prisoners. That’s the real problem…