Washington Post: Justices will scrutinize life sentences for youths


The story of Sara Kruzan, a juvenile offender serving a life sentence in California, has brought a lot of traffic to this blog and that of Compassion in Juvenile Sentencing. 

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin reviewing the life sentences of two youths incarcerated in Florida, one of which is being represented by Equal Justice Initiative Founder and Director Bryan Stevenson.  Of all the fifty states, Alabama has sentenced the most black youths to life in prison.

You can read the Washington Post article here.  Below are highlights from the article.

Across the country, 111 people are serving life sentences without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles that did not result in a death, according to one report; 77 of them are locked up in Florida, for crimes including armed robbery and carjacking.

Stevenson contends that Florida made no conscious policy decision that 13-year-olds should be eligible for life without parole for a non-homicide. No state that has debated the question has set the age that low. Instead, he said, Sullivan and others were caught up in a legislative reaction to escalating crime.

“What happened is we lowered the minimum age for trying kids as adults and brought them into the adult system, and we expanded the range of very harsh sentences for an adult, and these two things have collided,” he said.

Sullivan and Graham are supported by a wide-ranging group of organizations: the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and academics and social scientists who argue that juveniles cannot be held responsible for their actions in the same way adults are. For the same reason, they say, younger teenagers are not entrusted with decisions such as voting, marrying or drinking.

A group of educators and social scientists told the court that such research was crucial to the 2005 decision that juveniles should not be subject to the death penalty. “The principal purposes of sentencing — punishing the culpable and deterring the rational — are not furthered by denying the possibility of parole to adolescents,” the group said.

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