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Can a juvenile get sentenced to “life without parole”?
Under a 2010 Supreme Court opinion, juvenile offenders cannot receive life in prison without the possibility of parole as a sentence.
1. What did the Supreme Court say?
In the case of Graham v. Florida, the Court said life without parole for juvenile offenders contravenes the evolving standards of decency through which we evaluate the Eighth Amendment. Such a punishment leaves no room for redemption.1
Here is part of what Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority:
“The juvenile should not be deprived of the opportunity to achieve maturity of judgment and self-recognition of human worth and potential…Life in prison without the possibility of parole gives no chance for fulfillment outside prison walls, no chance for reconciliation with society, no hope.”2
The Court’s message is gratifying, especially for those of us in California (one of the eleven states that have imposed this kind of sentence) who face significant challenges presented by a tough-on-crime justice system and correspondingly overburdened prison system.
Perhaps the Court’s message will reverberate. Perhaps our justice system and correctional system can mature as well and fulfill their potential.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.