AL High Court Consensus On Juvenile Life Without Parole Terms


Arguments over the constitutionality of a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for juveniles provoked strong comments but no clear consensus yesterday at the Supreme Court, reports the National Law Journal. The court heard arguments in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, in which defendants who were 14 when they committed murder were sentenced, in effect, to die in prison without any chance of release during their lifetimes. The cases presented identical issues but were argued separately, possibly because in one case, defendant Kuntrell Jackson did not kill the victim, a video store clerk, but was an accomplice convicted of felony capital murder in Arkansas.

Bryan Stevenson of the Montgomery, Al.-based Equal Justice Initiative, argued for both defendants, telling the justices that juveniles have proved “deficits” in judgment and maturity that make life without parole an unconstitutional sentence. Justice Anthony Kennedy, a possible swing vote, seemed interested in simply declaring that such a sentence can never be mandatory for juveniles. “If you take that off the table, then you leave us with nothing but saying the sentence is never permitted or that it's always permitted,” Kennedy said. Several justices offered other line-drawing solutions, but Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that any line-limiting sentences short of the death penalty would just invite the next wave of appeals.

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