When juveniles, who are still transitioning between childhood and adulthood, commit crimes like murder, many questions about age, development and maturity levels arise and create legal issues. A recent case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court highlights the particular topic about whether juvenile offenders should be sentenced to life without parole. While some proponents of these sentences are satisfied with treating juveniles as adults, opponents call this cruel and unusual punishment and believe alternatives for juveniles may be better.
Juveniles Serving Life
Although 39 states require life without parole as the penalty for murder, even for juveniles, only 18 states have sentenced juveniles 14 years old or younger to life without parole. According to Human Rights Watch, in 2009 there were about 2,500 juveniles serving life terms without parole for crimes perpetrated before turning 18. There are almost 80 juveniles currently serving life sentences, with no chance of parole, for crimes committed before turning 14, mostly in states where this penalty is compulsory for murder.
Supreme Court Cases
The Supreme Court recently heard arguments for two cases where juveniles from Arkansas and Alabama were given sentences of life without parole for murders committed when they were 14 years old. The Supreme Court previously struck down life without parole for non-murderous crimes and invalidated imposing the death penalty for juveniles, but in this ruling, it will consider whether life without parole is cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore unconstitutional, for juveniles who commit murder at the age of 14 or younger.
Is It Right?
Knowing how to appropriately punish juveniles for their criminal behavior is a difficult issue. Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg recently stated that punishing a juvenile with a mandatory life without parole sentence makes “a 14-year-old a throwaway person.” While the Supreme Court ponders whether this penalty is right and just, juveniles across the nation may continue to suffer the consequences of state laws that choose to treat them the same as adults when they are tried for crimes like murder. When juveniles are charged with crimes, getting the right legal help is crucial.
If you or your juvenile child is charged with a serious crime, contact a local criminal law attorney immediately. An experienced criminal law lawyer can help at the onset of the case or during sentencing.