Cruel and Unusual Punishment for 14-Year-Olds

Editorial, The New York Times


The Supreme Court in 2005 justly banned the death penalty for minors convicted of murder. In 2010, it banned life without parole for youths convicted of crimes other than murder. In two cases argued before the court on Tuesday, the justices should take the next step and ban life without parole for youths convicted of murder.

In an Alabama case, Evan Miller, a 14-year-old, and a friend stole a collection of baseball cards and $300 from a neighbor. They attacked the man with a baseball bat, and killed him when they set fire to his home. In an Arkansas case, Kuntrell Jackson, also 14, tried to rob a video store with two friends. When the clerk said she was going to call the police, one of the other youths shot and killed her with a shotgun. Both Mr. Miller and Mr. Jackson received mandatory sentences of life without parole for murder.

Alabama and Arkansas asked the court to allow them to continue to impose a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile who has committed murder. But the Supreme Court has found that there are critical differences between adolescents and adults in maturity and susceptibility to peer pressure and other forces. Relying on that insight in its 2005 and 2010 cases, the court concluded both times “it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult.” It would be as misguided to equate young adolescents with adults in cases of murder.


Read the entire editorial here.