Justices Restrict Mandatory Life Terms for Juveniles

2012

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, limits the use of mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole for juveniles convicted of murder. The ruling says the mandatory sentences are unconstitutional because they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Elena Kagan writes that legal precedents make clear that “a judge or jury must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest possible penalty” on those under the age of 18. The justices who dissented say that legislatures, and not courts, should decide what is an appropriate sentence for juveniles convicted of murder. The ruling in Miller v. Alabama does not impose a strict ban on life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, but the Court’s majority says the “appropriate occasions” for such a penalty “will be uncommon.”