Can a Court Sentence a Juvenile to Life in Prison without Chance of Parole?

A recent New York Times Article, titled “Juvenile Killers in Jail for Life Seek a Reprieve,” describes a recent Supreme Court decision to deny a now 25-year-old man parole for a murder committed when he was 14.    

The article describes the circumstances surrounding the crimes as a scuffle between step-brothers that escalated from goofing around with a blowgun to an angry threat with a bow and arrow to the fatal thrust of a hunting knife.

The young man is now in a maximum-security prison, serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

In recent years, the Supreme Court has been methodically diminishing severe sentences. For example, it has banned the death penalty for juvenile offenders, the mentally disabled and those convicted of crimes other than murder. Also, as recent as 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juvenile offenders to life without the possibility of parole violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, but did not rule on whether or not this applies to cases involving a murder.

Interestingly, a dissenting judge argued that sentencing juveniles to life in prison is essentially allowing them to die there, which cannot be distinguished from the death penalty which as applied to juveniles has been declared unconstitutional.

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