November 8, 2011
Is it constitutional to sentence youth to die in prison who were either very young at the time of the offense or who were present but did not actually commit the homicide?
The U.S. Supreme Court will be taking up those questions shortly in two appeals filed by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) on behalf of two people who were 14 years old when they were sentenced to die in prison The New York Times reported Nov. 7.
Last year, in Graham v. Florida, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for youth to be sentenced to life without parole in cases that did not involve murder. A ruling in the new cases could expand the ban on giving youth life sentences.
The life sentences given in both of the cases EJI has appealed were mandatory and did not allow for the extreme youth of the children involved.
The cases differ in one key respect, however. In one, Miller v. Alabama, the 14-year-old was convicted of homicide. In the second, Jackson v. Hobbs, a 14-year-old Arkansas youth was not the killer, but was sentenced to die in prison anyway. As a result, the Supreme Court will have an opportunity to distinguish between cases where a youth merely participated in a crime where a killing occurred, and a crime where he or she actually committed the murder.
According to EJI, there are about 70 people in the United States serving life sentences who were 14 or younger when they were involved in a murder.
- A five-day series on youth sentenced to life is running now on MLive.com. While not complete as of this writing, there's an in-depth overview with excellent statistics/graphics, and there are also profiles of 21 people sentenced to life for crimes they committed as young teens.
- A powerful Nov. 9 editorial in The L.A. Times came out against sentencing youth to die in prison as "too cruel."