Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

U.S. Supreme Court to decide constitutionality of life terms for minors

U.S. Supreme Court to decide constitutionality of life terms for minors

Listen to this article

A year after holding that sentencing a juvenile to life without parole in non-murder cases violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether imposing such a sentence on a juvenile for capital murder is unconstitutional.

The Court granted certiorari in two cases, to be argued in tandem, involving defendants who were convicted of capital murder. The crimes were committed when each defendant was 14 years old.

In the Alabama case, the defendant and a 16-year-old co-defendant were convicted of robbing and beating a neighbor and then setting his trailer on fire while he was still inside.

The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that giving a 14-year-old juvenile a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the offense of capital murder during an arson violated the Eighth Amendment.

But the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals rejected that argument.

“With 44 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government permitting a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of homicide offenses … this Court cannot say that [the defendant] has met his burden of establishing a national consensus against sentencing 14-year-olds who have been convicted of capital murder to life in prison without the possibility of parole,” the court held.

In the Arkansas case, the defendant was convicted of capital murder and aggravated robbery. His petition to the trial court seeking a writ of habeas corpus, on the argument that the state lacked jurisdiction to sentence him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, was dismissed.

The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a life term for a juvenile defendant is not “not unconstitutionally excessive when it is within the statutory bounds,” and noting that U.S. Supreme Court precedent is “very narrowly tailored to death-penalty cases involving a juvenile and life-imprisonment-without-parole cases for non-homicide offenses involving a juvenile.”

Decisions from the Supreme Court are expected later this term.

Miller v. Alabama, No. 10-9646; Certiorari granted:  Nov. 7, 2011. Ruling below: (Unreported) No. CR-06-0741  (Ala. Crim. App. Aug. 27, 2010); Jackson v. Hobbs, No. 10-9647; Certiorari granted: Nov. 7, 2011. Ruling Below: 2011 Ark. 49.

Polls

What kind of stories do you want to read more of?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Legal News

See All Legal News

Case Digests

Sea all WLJ People

Opinion Digests