Law

Supreme Court bars mandatory life sentences in juvenile crimes





Juvenile homicide offenders cannot be punished to mandatory life sentences, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

By a 5-4 vote, the justices ruled that mandatory life sentences violate the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bans cruel and unusual punishment. The decisions follows a string of recent cases in which juvenile offenders have been treated differently by the high court.

"Because juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform, we explained, 'they are less deserving of the most severe punishments,'" Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority, quoting a 2010 case in which the court barred life sentences in non-murder juvenile cases.

Thee decision was based on the U.S. Constitution so presumably it will apply to Indian juveniles who were convicted in federal court. Just last year, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a 48-year sentence for a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe who pleaded guilty as an adult to second-degree homicide.

Bryan Austin Boneshirt was 17 when he admitted he killed Marquita Walking Eagle on November 1, 2009. He asked the Supreme Court to review his case but the justices denied his petition without comment on February 21.

Get the Story:
Supreme Court says states may not impose mandatory life sentences on juvenile murderers (The Washington Post 6/26)
Justices Bar Mandatory Life Terms for Juveniles (The New York Times 6/26)

Supreme Court Decision:
Miller v. Alabama / Jackson v. Hobbs (June 25, 2012)

Related Stories:
Court rules juvenile Indians must join sex offender registry (01/26)
Supreme Court agrees to take up juvenile life sentence cases (11/08)
8th Circuit affirms 48-year-sentence for Indian juvenile (10/31)
Supreme Court bars life terms in non-murder juvenile cases (5/17)
Supreme Court bars execution of juvenile offenders (4/2)