On Monday, the United States Supreme Court prohibited states from using a mandatory structure to sentence juveniles convicted of murder to life without parole. According to Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the opinion for the majority, a blanket sentencing structure inherently violates a juvenile’s Eighth Amendment ban against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The case arose from the convictions of two young boys, Evan Miller and Kuntrell Jackson, who were only 14 when they were sentenced for their roles in the murders of two people. Although the court’s opinion was split 5-4, the ruling was in keeping with previous Eighth Amendment cases involving juveniles.
In earlier cases, the Supreme Court barred the death penalty for juveniles and life without parole for juveniles whose sentences were not the result of a homicide. While the decision certainly delighted juvenile criminal defense advocates, it did not go as far as to prevent states from sentencing juveniles to life without parole entirely.
The ruling simply bars a required sentencing provision. Judges simply must take into account the circumstances surrounding the murders. The age, maturity, experience as well as the role of the juvenile involved may all play a part in an individual judge’s deliberations.
Murder charges may vary from self-defense to vehicular manslaughter to gang-related homicide and first-degree murder. They are not any less serious because a youth is under the age of 18. If convicted, juveniles charged with homicide in San Bernardino and Riverside still face a lengthy period of incarceration.
Source: www.latimes,com, “No more mandatory life without parole for juveniles, Supreme Court rules,” Associated Press 25 June 2012