Supreme Court: No More Life Sentences Without Parole For Minors Who Haven’t Killed Anyone

Ken AshfordConstitution, Crime, Supreme CourtLeave a Comment

It was a 5-4 decision, with Alito, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas in the minority.

Really, this should have been a no-brainer.

By a 5-4 vote Monday, the court says the Constitution requires that young people serving life sentences must at least be considered for release.

The court ruled in the case of Terrance Graham, who was implicated in armed robberies when he was 16 and 17. Graham, now 22, is in prison in Florida, which holds more than 70 percent of juvenile defendants locked up for life for crimes other than homicide.

''The state has denied him any chance to later demonstrate that he is fit to rejoin society based solely on a nonhomicide crime that he committed while he was a child in the eyes of the law,'' Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion. ''This the Eighth Amendment does not permit.''

Roughly three dozen states allow for the possibility of sentencing teenagers for life with no parole, even where the teen did not kill anyone.

Writing for the dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas offered this:

''I am unwilling to assume that we, as members of this court, are any more capable of making such moral judgments than our fellow citizens.''

Perhaps not, Justice Thomas, but it is your job.  The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment.  It is your job to interpret the Constitution, and make sure that laws (or, in this case, sentences) do not offend the Constitution.  If you, as a judge, feel uncomfortable determining what the Constitution means by "cruel and unusual", then please step down and we'll find someone to replace you.