The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided a case involving a teenager who was sentenced to life in prison for a non-homicide offense. In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that a life sentence for a juvenile offender who has not committed murder violates the Constitution's eighth amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment. The first 2 minutes and 41 seconds of this video provide information about the Supreme Court's ruling limiting life sentences for juvenile offenders, and the rest gives background about the other Supreme Court rulings handed down the same day.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the court's majority opinion in the juvenile detention case, said the ruling doesn't mean a juvenile will never spend life behind bars for a non-homicide crime. Instead, young offenders must be given a shorter sentence initially and an opportunity to prove that they have been rehabilitated enough to re-join society. The juvenile detention case was brought to the court on behalf of 22-year-old Terrence Graham, who when he was a teenager was sentenced to life in prison for violating parole by fleeing from police in connection with an armed robbery. Graham was on parole after serving a year in jail for different armed robbery offense.
A NewsHour Extra Student Reporting Lab team recently reported on life sentences for juveniles, including how young offenders are treated in other countries. Click here to view their video.
"The states cannot make the [life sentence] decision at the outset. There has to be some opportunity while in prison to show rehabilitation. - Marcia Coyle, "The National Law Journal"
"The court announced the categorical rule that this sentence violates the Constitution." - Marcia Coyle, "The National Law Journal"
1. What is the Supreme Court, and how many justices serve on it?
2. What is a "juvenile offender?"
3. What do you know about how young people who commit crimes are treated?
1. Do you agree with the Supreme Court's decision banning life sentences for juveniles who have not committed murder? Why or why not?
2. The court ruled that juveniles must be given a "reasonable opportunity" to prove they have learned from their mistakes and matured. What might be an example of such an opportunity? How could an offender prove that he or she had been rehabilitated?
3. The video mentioned another offender, Joe Sullivan, who was sentenced to life in prison when he was a juvenile. According to the video, why was Sullivan's case dismissed, and how could he try to "take advantage" of the ruling banning life in prison for young offenders?
Student Reporting Labs: Supreme Court:
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