The United States stands alone as the only nation that sentences people to life without parole for crimes committed before turning 18.
Since 2005, Supreme Court rulings have accepted adolescent brain science and banned the use of capital punishment for juveniles, limited life without parole sentences to homicide offenders, banned the use of mandatory life without parole, and applied the decision retroactively.
Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)
The Supreme Court ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced to death, writing that the death penalty is a disproportionate punishment for the young; immaturity diminishes their culpability, as does their susceptibility to outside pressures and influences.
Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010)
Having banned the use of the death penalty for juveniles in Roper, the Court left the sentence of life without parole as the harshest sentence available for offenses committed by people under 18. In Graham v. Florida, the Court banned the use of life without parole for juveniles not convicted of homicide. Limiting the use of life without parole did not guarantee such individuals would be released; it guaranteed a “meaningful opportunity” for release.
Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, 567 U.S. 460 (2012)
The U.S. Supreme Court held that, for juveniles, mandatory life without parole sentences violate the Eighth Amendment. Judges must be able to consider the characteristics of juvenile defendants in order to issue a fair and individualized sentence. Adolescence is marked by “transient rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences,” all factors that should mitigate the punishment received by juvenile defendants.
Montgomery v. Louisiana 136 U.S. 718 (2016)
The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Miller ruling that mandatory life without parole sentences violate the Eight Amendment should be applied retroactively. The court in Roper, Graham, and Miller found that “children are constitutionally different from adults in their level of culpability. Moreover, the severest punishment must be reserved “for the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.
Special thanks to Roseanne Eckert, Coordinating Attorney, and the FIU College of Law Florida Juvenile Resentencing and Review Project.
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