Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Supreme Court Examines the Possibility of Limitations on Sentences for Juveniles

The Supreme Court yesterday heard arguments surrounding two new cases up for their review. Both involved the question of just how severe a penalty imposed on a juvenile has to be in order to be considered unconstitutional. The first case involved a 14-year-old in Alabama who beat an older man to death and subsequently burned his house down. The second case involved another 14-year-old boy in Arkansas who, along with two older boys, tried to rob a video store in 1999. One of the older boys shot and killed the store clerk.

Proponents for harsh penalties point to the "sanctity of life" as the reason a juvenile should be sentenced harshly for crimes involving killings. Justice Ginsburg, however, noted that this argument could fail because if the sanctity of life is an important interest for the State, by imposing a life without parole sentence on a 14-year-old, the State is essentially throwing that life away. Dissenters of harsh sentences believe that teenagers are immature, and should be given a more lenient sentence because of that. Their main point seems to be that many juveniles deserve a life sentence for their crimes; however, what they don't deserve is the lack of hope that they will ever get out on parole. Many worry, however, just how many teenagers will continue to commit extreme crimes such as the ones involved and claim they are too immature to know better.

Here are some of the possible solutions the Court could reach:
  • It could prohibit life without parole sentences for any minor under the age of 15.
  • It could prohibit life without parole sentences for anyone under the age of 18.
  • It could bar life without parole sentences for defendants who were accomplices to a crime.
  • It could bar mandatory sentences, relying on the discretion of the particular Court to consider all the facts and circumstances of the case.

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