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May 21, 2010 (Associated Press, Washington Post, NPR, Miami Herald)

The Sentencing Project Applauds Supreme Court Ruling: Life without Parole Sentences Unconstitutional for Juveniles Convicted of Non-homicides

The Supreme Court Monday issued a 5 to 4 ruling that sentencing a juvenile to life without parole for a non-homicide offense violates the 8th Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Monday's ruling in Graham v. Florida will affect 129 cases around the nation, 77 of which are in Florida. The remaining cases are in Louisiana (17), Iowa (6), California (4), Mississippi (2), Nebraska (1), South Carolina (1), Delaware (1), Virginia (8), Nevada (5), Oklahoma (1), and the Federal System (6).

In the case concerning Terrance Graham, age 16 at the time of his original offense, the Court was asked to determine the constitutionality of a life without parole sentence for a probation violation that included a new, violent crime.

The Sentencing Project is pleased that the Court referred to the amicus brief that TSP submitted, with the aid of the firm of O’Melveny and Myers, in support of the plaintiffs in their ruling. Our brief argued that the cases raised similar issues to those in the Court's 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons. In Roper, the Court determined that the death penalty is unconstitutional for juveniles due to their reduced culpability and their unique capacity for reform. The Sentencing Project's brief also documented that in many of the non-homicide cases, juveniles were denied any opportunity to have their age and limited culpability considered by a sentencing court because of laws which automatically transfer certain youth to the adult system and thus make them susceptible to mandatory life without parole sentences.

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view the sentencing project's amicus brief

Issue Area(s): Sentencing Policy, Incarceration, Racial Disparity, Juvenile Justice
State(s): Florida, California, Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia