U.S. Supreme Court to decide juvenile life sentences

Legal news for criminal lawyers. The Supreme Court will decide if life in prison without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional.

U.S. Supreme Court will decided if it is cruel and unusual punishment for juveniles to be sentenced to life in prison without parole for non-homicide crimes.

Washington, D.C.—Monday, November 9, 2009 is a precedent setting day, as the U.S. Supreme Court will consider if a juvenile’s sentence of a life in prison without the possibility of parole for non-homicidal crimes has violated the Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court justices will reside over two Florida cases, which will determine if sentencing juveniles, which is defined as anyone under 18, convicted of non-lethal crimes to essentially “die in prison” without the possibility of parole should be illegal, as reported by The Washington Post.

The state of Florida, which has incarcerated more juveniles the any other state, is joined by 19 other states that claim they should reserve the right to determine the most fitting sentence for criminals who commit crimes, no matter what their age is. The Florida Solicitor General Scott Makar stated in the Florida brief that, “There is no consensus against life sentences for juveniles, particularly for heinous crimes such as sexual battery.” A total of 111 people across the nation are currently serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles, which did not involve a homicide. A staggering 70 percent of those inmates are located in Florida, who took a “get-tough” approach in the 1990’s.

The two Florida cases Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida are at the center of the highly controversial debate. Terrance Graham violated probation after being involved in a home invasion. Graham was on probation after he was convicted of armed robbery a year earlier was sentenced at age 17. Joe Harris Sullivan, who is now 34, was one of the only two 13-year-old in the U.S. sentenced to life without parole for a non-homicide. Sullivan was convicted of raping an elderly woman.

These cases are being supported by a vast range of organizations such as: the American Bar Association, The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and other academic and social scientists that believe juveniles cannot be held accountable the same way adults are. Florida, and 19 other supporting states, maintained the life in prison with parole sentence is only reserved for the worst criminal offenders. In addition, the National District Attorneys Association also supports Florida claim that “permanent incarceration for the most violent, hardened juvenile offenders is by no mean ‘cruel’.”

Legal News Reporter: Nicole Howley-Legal news for criminal lawyers