The Supreme Court will decide whether it is inherently cruel and unusual to lock up someone forever for a crime committed when the perpetrator hasn’t developed an adult capacity to grasp the consequences of his or her actions.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases brought by inmates in Alabama and Arkansas who were sentenced to life in prison without parole for killings they committed as 14-year-olds. On the face of it, that sounds right; in the popular imagination, it’s those Bible-belt states in the South that subject children to unthinkable lifelong punishment before they are deemed, by society’s cooler heads, to have had the mental and emotional capacity to vote, smoke a cigarette or even see a movie made for older teens.
It was in a Florida case last year that the Supreme Court rejected life without parole for juveniles whose crimes fell short of murder. Once again, it was the federal judiciary that had to straighten out a Southern state only too willing to impose the too-cruel and, for a teenager, too-unusual sentence of life without parole for a crime in which no one died, committed by someone with less than full adult capacity.
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