Can Juvenile Defendants Be Sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole?

Juvenile Criminal DefenseToday the Supreme Court of the United States is taking up the issue of whether juvenile defendants can be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. In the two cases before the court, Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, the defendants committed homicides when they were 14 years old. In Graham v Florida, the Supreme Court held that life without the possibility of parole for non-homicidal crimes committed by juveniles is unconstitutional. In those types of cases, the law now requires states to provide a “meaningful opportunity for release”.

In Miller, the defendant and an older boy were under the influence of drugs and alcohol provided to them by the middle-aged victim. The children and the man began to fight and the man was hit with a bat. The boys then set his trailer on fire and the man died of smoke inhalation. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole without any consideration that Miller was severely beaten and neglected and even tried to commit suicide when he was just five years old.

In Jackson, the 14-yr-old defendant was merely present at an armed robbery when his cousin and an older boy shot and killed a man. As an accomplice, he was charged and convicted of the homicide. Jackson was then sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, even though he did not pull the trigger, did not have any awareness or intent that the man would be shot.

The basis of the defendants’ arguments is whether or not sentencing juveniles to life without the possibility of parole constitutes a violation of their Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Seventy three 14-year olds throughout the United States have been sentenced to this same fate.

What do you think? Should we give juveniles the change to show they have changed? While most would agree that we should hold juveniles accountable for their actions, should we sentence a 14 year old the same way we sentence a 30 year old?

Below are the arguments for both sides of thess cases:

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