STATEMENT FROM THE CAMPAIGN FOR THE FAIR SENTENCING OF YOUTH
REGARDING THE U.S. SUPREME COURT RULING REGARDING LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE SENTENCES FOR YOUTH
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in the companion cases of Jackson v Hobbs and Miller v Alabama that mandatory life-without-parole sentences imposed on children violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments.”
This historic ruling holds that it is unconstitutional to sentence any child under age 18 convicted of homicide to a mandatory life-without-parole sentence. Kuntrell Jackson and Evan Miller, both of whom were sentenced to life in prison without parole for crimes committed at 14, are now entitled to new sentencing hearings.
The ruling will affect hundreds of other individuals whose sentences did not take their age or other mitigating factors into account. It requires the lower courts to conduct new sentencing hearings during which judges will have to consider children’s age, life circumstances, and other mitigating factors.
Comments from Jody Kent Lavy, Director & National Coordinator
We applaud the Court for its ruling today, which rightly recognizes the grave injustice in mandatorily sentencing children to die in prison. In 29 states, youth convicted of certain crimes have received mandatory life-without-parole sentences, which effectively remove any discretion on the part of a judge or jury to consider relevant factors at sentencing such as the youth’s age, history of neglect or abuse, or role in the crime.
The Justices affirm in their ruling what science has proven: children are fundamentally different from adults. “Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features – among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences. It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him—and from which he cannot usually extricate himself—no matter how brutal or dysfunctional. It neglects the circumstances of the homicide offense, including the extent of his participation in the conduct and the way familial and peer pressures may have affected him . . . And finally, this mandatory punishment disregards the possibility of rehabilitation even when the circumstances most suggest it.”
This ruling reflects the continued recognition of the Court that because children are different from adults, they must be treated accordingly in the context of sentencing. In 2005, the Supreme Court prohibited the death penalty for children younger than 18, acknowledging that youthfulness is an important factor in determining whether a punishment is cruel and unusual. Then in 2010, the Supreme Court struck down the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without parole when their crimes did not result in death.
Today’s historic decision brings our nation closer in line with the rest of the world, as the United States alone sentences children to life in prison without the possibility of parole. We are heartened that the Court has brought hope to those who were told as teens that they deserved nothing more than certain death in prison. We know young people have a unique capacity to grow and mature over time, and therefore should never be sentenced to die in prison. Instead, children should be held accountable in an age-appropriate way that focuses on rehabilitation and reintegration in to society.