In 2005, the United States Supreme Court abolished capital punishment for defendants who committed their crimes while juveniles. This week, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court has taken it a step further, and now has also abolished the practice of sentencing juveniles to life without parole. Many states have mandatory sentencing schemes that call for a life sentence without the possibility of parole, for capital offenses where the death sentence is not given.
In Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juveniles to life without parole violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. (As an interesting side note, Justice Kennedy, often viewed as the moderate “swing vote” on many controversial issues sided with the 4 liberal Justices on both the 2005 case and this case).
One basis of the Court’s opinion resides in the belief that a juvenile’s mind is not as well-developed as the mind of an adult, and thus the punishment for his misdeeds should not be as severe. Of course, logic may tell you that a juvenile capable of the type of cold-blooded murder that would qualify for life without parole is not likely to see his mind develop for the better. In fact, it may be that a 16 year old capable of such heinous crimes will escalate even further later in life, perhaps even murdering again.