Supreme Court: Teens Who Don’t Kill Can’t be Locked Away Forever

May 17, 2010

(ChattahBox)—In its usual 5-4 opinion, the ideologically divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday, that sentencing teen offenders committing nonhomocide crimes to life sentences without a chance of parole, violated the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. Unsurprisingly, the majority of teens locked away for life are in Florida. Today’s ruling now provides teens who haven’t committed murder, a chance for redemption and to prove that they are “fit to rejoin society.”

The high court’s ruling strikes down the law in 37 jurisdictions.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Justices Stevens, Ginsberg, Breyer and Sotomayor, with Justice Roberts concurring. Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas dissented.

The case was brought by Terrance Graham, now 22, who was sentenced in Florida to a life sentence without chance of parole for committing armed robberies when he was 16 and 17. Florida has 70 percent of all teen offenders, who have not killed, locked up for life without hope.

Justice Kennedy, said in his ruling, that locking up youthful offenders for the rest of their days for nonhomocide crimes, denies them the constitutional right to atone for crimes committed while a minor:

“Terrance Graham’s sentence guarantees he will die in prison without any meaningful opportunity to obtain release, no matter what he might do to demonstrate that the bad acts he committed as a teenager are not represen-tative of his true character, even if he spends the next half century attempting to atone for his crimes and learn from his mistakes. The State has denied him any chance to later demonstrate that he is fit to rejoin society based solely on a nonhomicide crime that he committed while he was a child in the eyes of the law. This the Eighth Amendment does not permit,” wrote Kennedy.

Justice Thomas condemned Kennedy’s majority opinion for imposing ”its own sense of morality and retributive justice” on state lawmakers and voters who have empowered judges to lock up teens and throw away the key.

”I am unwilling to assume that we, as members of this court, are any more capable of making such moral judgments than our fellow citizens,” Thomas wrote.

Kennedy also noted in his opinion that the United States is the only country in the world that issues life sentences without parole to teens who haven’t killed anyone.


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