Notion that “Kids are Different” Takes Hold in Youth Justice Policy Reform

2005 – Roper v. Simmons: U.S. Supreme court rules that it is cruel and unusual punishment to impose the death penalty on people for crimes committed when they were younger than 18. “[F]rom a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor’s character deficiencies will be reformed.” Roper v. Simmons, 543 U. S. 551, 570 (2005). 

2010 – Graham v. Florida: U.S. Supreme Court rules that life-without-parole sentences imposed on children for non-homicide offenses are unconstitutional. “‘(J)uvenile offenders cannot with reliability be classified among the worst offenders.’ “ Graham v, Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011, 2026 (2010), quoting Roper, 543 U.S., at 573.“Juveniles are more capable of change than are adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of ‘irretrievably depraved character’ than are the actions of adults. Id. 

2011 — J.D.B. v. North Carolina: U.S. Supreme Court establishes that youth status matters in areas of youth justice beyond the context of harsh sentencing policies when it imposed the requirement that law enforcement officials must consider the age of a suspect in determining whether Miranda warnings should be issued.

BREAKING: Supreme Court Strikes Down Juvenile Mandatory LWOP

Updated: 12:07 p.m. In a 5-4 decision issued Monday morning, the Supreme Court ruled the Eighth Amendment prohibits mandatory sentences of life without possibility of parole for juveniles (JLWOP). The decision stems from two cases—Jackson v Hobbs and Miller v Alabama—involving 14-year-olds convicted of murder and sentenced to mandatory life terms.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the majority opinion, holding that mandatory JLWOP violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, citing as precedent Roper v Simmons. “That right ‘flows from the basic “precept of justice that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned,” to both the offender and the offense,’ ” Kagan wrote. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the dissenting opinion.

Juveniles Convicted of Homicides: Will The U.S. Supreme Court Take the Next Logical Step?

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  “Why is life without parole categorically different? How about 50, 60, 70 years?  As close to death as possible? How are we to know where to draw those lines?”  Justice Antonin Scalia was first out of the box to fire questions at defendant’s attorney Bryan Stevenson. However, on the first day of Spring in the city of cherry blossoms, all eyes and ears within the U.S. Supreme Court were focused on Justice Anthony Kennedy. Would he repeat the message of hope for young people when he so eloquently wrote for the majority two years earlier in Graham v. Florida: “Life in prison without the possibility of parole gives no chance for fulfillment outside prison walls, no chance for reconciliation with society, no hope.” (Before Graham, the Court’s decision in Roper v. Simmons had ruled the death penalty for juveniles unconstitutional.)

Relying upon scientific evidence that kids are different from adults because their brains hadn’t fully developed and thus lacked impulse control and judgment, the Graham decision held life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicides to be cruel and unusual punishment, thus unconstitutional.

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.

Advocates Hopeful, Want Supreme Court to Reject Life Without Parole for Juveniles

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments in the cases of two 14-year-olds sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison, many advocates and attorneys predict a majority of the justices will decide that life sentences for juveniles without the possibility of parole amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Children are “categorically different” from adults, says Andrea Dennis, associate professor at the University of Georgia School of Law, and she wants to see the Court acknowledge that. “At a minimum,” she said, “I hope the court would reject mandatory juvenile LWOP [life without parole] sentences for all homicide crimes and require juries be allowed to consider the defendant’s youth and other factors as mitigation.”

In both cases, Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama, the sentences were mandatory regardless of the defendant’s age or circumstances and the judges had no discretion in sentencing. In Jackson, a 14-year-old was convicted as an accomplice to the murder of a store clerk. He did not have a gun or pull the trigger.