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US Supreme Court curbs use of life sentences for juveniles
The US Supreme Court rejected as unconstitutional the life imprisonment without parole sentence for juveniles who commit a crime other than murder. Some 111 young defendants have been sentenced to life in prison without parole for non-murder crimes.
REUTERS - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday it was unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole for crimes other than murder.
By a 6-3 vote, the nation’s highest court ruled that life imprisonment without parole in such cases violated the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
An estimated 111 defendants in the United States have been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for crimes other than murder committed when they were under age 18. About 70 percent of them are imprisoned in Florida.
The ruling in a case from Florida involved Terrance Graham, who was 16 when he committed armed burglary and another crime. He then committed an armed home-invasion robbery at age 17, and was sentenced to life in prison.
His attorney had argued that such a sentence unfairly condemned adolescents to die in prison and rejected any hope that they could change and could be rehabilitated.
The United States is the only country in the world that still sentences juveniles to life in prison without possibility of parole, Amnesty International and other human rights groups said.
“The United States is the world’s worst human rights violator in terms of sentencing young offenders to life without parole,” Alison Parker, U.S. director for Human Rights Watch, said after the ruling.
Nationwide juvenile sentencing trends in recent years have reflected get-tough efforts by states, which have abolished parole and prosecuted juveniles as adults in the regular criminal justice system for especially heinous crimes.
Attorneys for Graham partly based their arguments on the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2005 that abolished the death penalty for juveniles on the grounds they are less responsible for their crimes than adults due to their emotional immaturity.
In Monday’s decision, the Supreme Court, in a majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, overturned a ruling by a Florida court that upheld Graham’s sentence.
“The Constitution prohibits the imposition of a life without parole sentence on a juvenile offender who did not commit homicide,” Kennedy concluded in the 32-page opinion.
“A state need not guarantee the offender eventual release, but if it imposes a sentence of life it must provide him or her with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of that term,” he wrote.