Published: Monday, June 25, 2012, 10:20 AM
Life-without-parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional, according to a 5-4 opinion Monday morning from the U.S. Supreme Court that involved a 14-year-old convicted of murder in Alabama. Evan Miller was convicted of arson and murder in Lawrence County, but his life without any possibility of parole sentence violates the Constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment, according to the justices.
The opinion was written by Justice Elana Kagan. The ruling, which also includes a case from Arkansas, is another in a line of decisions that don’t allow the criminal justice system to give up hope that the youngest criminals can be rehabilitated.
“By requiring that all children convicted of homicide receive lifetime incarceration without possibility of parole, regard- less of their age and age-related characteristics and the nature of their crimes, the mandatory sentencing schemes before us violate this principle of proportionality, and so the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment,” according to the opinion that was just released this morning.
The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, which advocates for an end to lifetime mandatory sentences for youth, said that Louisiana has 332 youths serving life terms. That’s the third highest in the United States, behind only Michigan and Pennsylvania, according to the group.
“(The decision) will impact Louisiana significantly because we do have mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenses,” said Dana Kaplan, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. Kaplan, though, is reading the Supreme Court ruling, just out this morning, and says she’ll have a more thorough analysis later.
The four justices that dissented include Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia.
Mary Orndorff, The Birmingham News
Bruce Alpert contributed to this story