Supreme Court To Determine Whether Sentencing 14-year-olds To Life Without Possibility Of Parole Is Cruel And Unusual Punishment

This past week two cases took center stage at the Supreme Court on the issue of what constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” and whether it’s a violation of the 8th Amendment to sentence 14-year-olds convicted of murder to life in prison without the possibility of parole. News reports indicate that Justice Kennedy, who is likely the swing vote, is looking for legal grounds to invalidate a law that mandates a life sentence without parole for some young offenders.

If your minor aged child is under investigation for or has been arrested for any crime, it is imperative to contact an aggressive Michigan criminal defense lawyer to immediately begin preparing a defense and protect your child’s future.

The cases before the Supreme Court involve two separate incidents of 14-year-old boys convicted of murder. In Jackson v. Hobbs, the 14-year-old Jackson was involved in a robbery of a video store when another teenager shot and killed the store clerk. Although Jackson did not pull the trigger, he was given a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole based on his involvement. In Miller v. Alabama, Miller, who was 14, and his 16-year-old friend set a neighbor’s house on fire following a dispute. The neighbor died and the 16-year-old blamed Miller. Miller was sentenced to life in prison.

The Supreme Court will now determine if the same reasoning that determined that the death penalty for those age 18 years and younger is cruel and unusual punishment applies to life without parole sentences to 14-year-olds convicted of murder.

While acknowledging the need for serious punishment, a representative of one of the boys pointed out “young offenders are less culpable than adults for the crimes they commit. Studies have shown that biologically and psychologically, teens are more susceptible to peer pressure and more prone to impulsive and reckless behavior. Studies show that their judgment and character are not yet fully formed.”


Arguing before the Supreme Court he stated “these factors must be considered in meting out appropriate punishment for crimes … sending a 14-year-old to prison with no hope of release is cruel and unusual under the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment. It would be cruel to declare these children fit only to die in prison given what we now know about their status, about their development, and about their potential.”

As noted by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, when you lock up a 14-year-old for life in prison, “he will die in prison with out any hope…I mean, essentially, you’re making a 14-year-old a throwaway person.”

Currently, approximately 2,300 people in the United States are serving prison terms are serving life without parole for crimes committed when they were younger than 18 years old, with about 79 of those serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed when they were 14 years old.

Thirty-eight states, including Michigan, and the federal government allow life without parole sentences for those 14 and older.

A decision will likely be issued in June.

For more information or if you or your child is in need of experienced criminal defense, contact the top Michigan criminal defense attorneys at Grabel & Associates for a free, confidential consultation.

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