It is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison with parole if they haven’t committed murder, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.
In a 5-to-4 vote, the Court says young people serving life sentences must be at least considered for release, the Associated Press reported; the justices say that any other practice would be cruel and unusual punishment.
The Court was considered the case of Terrance Graham, who was reportedly involved in armed robberies at the ages of 16 and 17. Now 22, Graham was sentenced to life in Florida after being convicted of earlier crimes.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:
“The state has denied (Graham) any chance to demonstrate that he is fit to rejoin society based solely on a nonhomicide crime that he committed while he was child in the eyes of the law. This the Eighth Amendment does not permit.”
The ruling would reportedly affect 129 inmates in the federal system and 11 states, including California, Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska. Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the opinion for the dissenters. He stated that the Court was rejecting the judgment of Congress and the state legislature that life without parole might be appropriate in the worst cases, the Wall Street Journal said.
The majority reached “far beyond any congnizable constitutional principle…to ensure that its own sense of morality and retributive justice pre-empts that of the people and their representatives.”
It was the Court’s second recent ruling that affects prison inmates;in another decision, the Court ruled 7-to-2 to uphold a federal law that allows for the indefinite imprisonment of inmates considered mentally ill and “sexually dangerous,” even if they have completed their sentences.
That case was successfully argued by Solicitor General Elena Kagan, who has been nominated to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.