By Matthew Simpson Policy Strategist Today the Supreme Court issued an important decision on how youth can be sentenced. Specifically, the court held that a life sentence without the possibility of parole is cruel and unusual punishment, as barred by the 8th Amendment. In previous cases, the Supreme Court had barred capital punishment for juveniles and prohibited life without parole for non-homicide crimes. Specifically, Roper v. Simmons held that the Eighth Amendment bars capital punishment for children, and Graham v. Florida concluded that the Amendment prohibits a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide offense. Today’s opinion, written by Justice Kagan, indicates two lines of legal reasoning that point to the unconstitutionality of life without parole for youth.
- First, youth are viewed to be less culpable generally because of a "lack of maturity" and an "underdeveloped sense of responsibility."
- Second, juvenile life without the chance of parole has been compared to the death penalty in previous opinions. Because the Supreme Court previously determined the death penalty could not be applied to youth without violating the Constitution, any similar penalty would likewise be unconstitutional.