US bars life sentences for juveniles

Tue, 18 May 2010
The US Supreme Court has ruled that teenagers who commit crimes in which no one is killed may not be given life sentences without the chance of parole.

The ruling issued on Monday says that life imprisonment without parole in such cases violates the US Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, Reuters reported.

In the court’s majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the United States has been the only nation in the world that sentences teenagers to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for crimes other than homicide.

The ruling in a case from Florida was a victory for Terrance Graham, who in 2003, at age 16, helped in the robbery of a Jacksonville restaurant, during which an accomplice beat the manager with a steel bar. Graham was sentenced to a year in jail and three years’ probation for that crime. He then committed an armed home-invasion robbery at age 17 and was sentenced to life in prison, The New York Times reported.

Six of the nine justices voted that Graham’s sentence was unconstitutional.

Human rights groups praised the ruling.

“The United States is the world’s worst human rights violator in terms of sentencing young offenders to life without parole,” Alison Parker, the US director for Human Rights Watch, said after the ruling.

In recent years, nationwide juvenile sentencing trends have reflected get-tough efforts by states, which have scrapped parole and tried juveniles as adults in the regular criminal justice system for crimes less serious than killing, the Reuters report added.