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High Court: No Life Sentences for Juveniles Who Haven’t Killed

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that juveniles cannot be given life-sentences with no chance of parole for crimes other than murder.

In a 5-4 ruling, the High Court said the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment ensures juveniles must at least be considered for early release from prison if they haven’t killed anyone.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said:

“With respect to life without parole for juvenile nonhomicide offenders, none of the goals of penal sanctions that have been recognized as legitimate — retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation …provides an adequate justification.”

The ruling involved the case of Terrence Graham, a Florida inmate who at the age of 17 was given a life sentence for armed burglary. Now 22, Graham is one of 77 inmates in Florida who as a juvenile was given life without parole for a non-homicide. Nationwide, there are 129 inmates serving life terms for a non-homicide committed before the age of 18.

Kennedy was joined in the majority by Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Stevens and Breyer. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the ruling on Graham, however, said he did not believe the decision should extend to all juveniles. Dissenting in the case were Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas.

Last November, the justices heard arguments in two cases involving juvenile sentencing. The other involved Joe Sullivan, also of Florida, who was sentenced to life in perison for raping an elderly woman when he was 13. The court did not issue an opinion in Sullivan’s case, but he will benefit from the Graham ruling, according to the AP.

At the time of the arguments, the National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle provided background on the cases:

In a separate ruling, the court voted 7-2 that federal authorities can indefinitely hold inmates considered “sexually dangerous,” even after their prison terms expire.

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