Supreme Court Rules Against Mandatory Life Without Parole for Children

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
June 25, 2012 3:09 pm

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The Supreme Court ruled today that juveniles convicted of murder cannot be subject to a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Twenty nine states currently have such laws. The Court’s rulings in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs build on a decision two years ago that juveniles could not be sentenced under any circumstances to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for non-homicide offenses. Even when convicted of murder, the Court said today, judges must be allowed to take a juvenile’s age into account (along with other relevant circumstances) in deciding the appropriate punishment. The Court specifically noted, moreover, that “appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest penalty will be uncommon.”

“Today’s decision helps to restore some rationality to the treatment of juveniles in our criminal justice system,” said Steven R. Shapiro, ACLU national legal director. “Surely, it is not too much to expect that judges will at least consider the fact that a 14 year old is standing before them when deciding whether to impose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, even in murder cases. The Court correctly held that laws forbidding such informed discretion before sentencing children to die in prison are unconstitutional. They also defy common sense.”

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