Among the flurry of opinions released by the U.S. Supreme Court in the past few weeks, was a landmark decision regarding sentencing for juveniles.

In Miller v. Alabama, three 14 year old defendants were convicted of murder, and sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

In each of the cases, the juvenile was involved in some sort of criminal scheme that resulted in a homicide. In each of the cases, the trial court imposed a statutorily mandated sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The sentencing authorities in each of the cases had no authority to impose a different sentence.

The court ultimately held that the Eighth Amendment's requirement to mete out sentences proportionate not only to the crime, but also according to individuals' unique circumstances, coupled with prior decisions regarding the nature of juveniles as a class, prohibits the automatic sentence of life without parole.

Prior case law establishes that children are constitutionally different from adults for sentencing purposes, due in part to their their “‘lack of maturity’” and “‘underdeveloped sense of responsibility,’ ” which can lead to "recklessness, impulsivity, and heedless risk-taking." They are also more susceptible to negative influences, and have less control over environmental factors.

Read more on this issue:

Should Juveniles Be Tried For Crimes As Adults?

Should Juveniles Be Sentenced to Life Without Parole?

Life Without Parole Unconstitutional For Juveniles in Non-Homicide Cases

 

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