United States Supreme Court Addresses Life Sentences for Juvenile Defendants

November 23, 2009

In the United States today there are more than more than twenty-two hundred (2,200) juveniles who are incarcerated as adults. These juveniles are serving life sentences without the ability to obtain parole (to be released from jail prior to the end of their sentence). Among the twenty-two hundred (2,200) juveniles, there are some prisoners who are as young as thirteen (13) years old.

In 2005, the United States Supreme Court, in a close decision (5-4), held that an individual who committed a crime when he or she was younger than eighteen (18) years of age cannot be executed. The court held this was unconstitutional.

On Monday, November 16, 2009, attorneys representing two minors sentenced in the State of Florida argued before the United States Supreme Court that the theory behind the prior death penalty decision in 2005 should also be extended to minors receiving life sentences.

The theory behind the death penalty decision of the United States Supreme Court was based on two key factors: (1) minors are not as culpable for this crimes as adults and they can be reformed and (2) The Supreme Court held that it would be “cruel and unusual punishment” to execute minors. Cruel and unusual punishment is banned by the 8th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Terrence Graham and another individual robbed a restaurant. He is in jail for this crime. In 2004, when he was only seventeen (17) years of age, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. This action was taken because he violated the terms of his probation by committing another robbery at gun point.

Joseph Sullivan, committed a burglary when he was thirteen years old. He thereafter was convicted of sexual battery against a seventy-two year old woman. Joseph Sullivan, a mentally disabled individual, has been convicted of several serious felonies and seventeen criminal offenses overall.

In the aforementioned two cases, both of the juveniles were given life sentences for crimes that did not involve homicides. It should be noted that more than 135 countries throughout the world do not allow life sentences for juveniles.

The United Nations Treaty prevents the imprisonment of children without the possibility of parole. All of the countries who are members of the United Nations with the exception of the United States and lonely Samoa have executed this treaty.

Is our society mature and sophisticated enough to deal with errant juveniles without warehousing them in prisons for their entire life?

Elliot S. Schlissel, Esq.

800-344-6431

Picture courtesy of acslaw.org

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