U.S. Supreme Court Questions If Juvenile Killers Should be Given Second Chance

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today in the cases of two offenders, sentenced at a young age to die in prison, and may choose to further limit such sentences for minors. Kuntrell Jackson of Arkansas and Evan Miller of Alabama were both 14 years old when they were convicted of a homicide, and both were sentenced to life sentences without the possibility of parole (LWOP). For more on the background of their cases, click here. A juvenile’s “deficits in maturity and judgment and decision-making are not crime specific,” said Bryan Stevenson, who represented both offenders. “All children are encumbered by the same barriers.” Stevenson argued that this was the inevitable conclusion to be drawn from the court’s other two recent cases on juvenile sentencing, Roper v Simmons and Graham v Florida.

The High Court Should Hold to Constitutional Principle and End Juvenile Life Without Parole

Seven years ago, in Roper v. Simmons, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized fundamental differences between children and adults that bear directly on the issue of culpability to outlaw imposition of the death penalty for any crime committed by a defendant younger than 18. Five years later, in Graham v. Florida, it relied on the same principles to ban life sentences without parole for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses. Next week, the Supreme Court will consider whether those principles must once again render a life-without-parole sentence unconstitutional for youth convicted of homicide offenses when it hears the cases of Kuntrell Jackson and Evan Miller, who were both sentenced to die in prison for crimes they committed when they were 14.  Because there is no scientific, legal or practical reason to disregard the findings in Roper and Graham, the established constitutional law must prevail and life-without-parole sentences for all teenagers, including Jackson and Miller, must be prohibited as excessive. Life imprisonment without parole, which discounts any possibility for rehabilitation, is a severe sentence for any offender. For a teenager, it is an extraordinary punishment in both length and psychological severity.

High Court to Rule on Constitutionality of Life Sentences for Minors Convicted of Murder

The U.S Supreme Court is set to hear two cases that will test the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles convicted of murder to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Last month, the nation’s highest court agreed to review Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, two cases involving juveniles convicted of murder, to determine whether life imprisonment sentences for minors found guilty of homicide is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Evan Miller and Kuntrell Jackson were both found guilty of committing capital murder when they were 14. In 2003, Miller was found guilty of beating his neighbor, Cole Cannon, with a baseball bat and subsequently setting fire to his trailer home, where Cannon died from smoke inhalation. In 1999, Jackson, then an Arkansas youth, was charged with felony murder stemming from a video store robbery, in which an accomplice shot and killed clerk Laurie Troup.