The Court has determined that a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishments. The decision, in a case out of Alabama, builds on two previous rulings from the court, which affirm that juveniles are developmentally different than their adult counterparts, for whom such sentences may not violate the 8th Amendment ban.
The court left open the possibility that individual judges could sentence juveniles to life without parole in individual cases of murder, but said state and federal laws cannot automatically impose such a sentence.
Dissenting, the court's four conservatives said nothing in the Constitution forbids laws requiring mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles. Chief Justice John Roberts was joined in the main dissent by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Alito also wrote separately and read his dissent aloud in the courtroom
Race, Racism and the Law
Vernellia R. Randall
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