A juvenile who was convicted of armed robbery appealed his sentence all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. For two armed robberies, committed when he was 16 and 17 years of age, Terrance Graham was sentenced in Florida to life in prison without chance of parole.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that such a sentence violated Graham’s Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Under Graham’s sentence, he would never have been eligible for parole, even though he was found guilty of a non-capital offense.
The court made a distinction between juveniles who have been convicted of murder and those who have been convicted of crimes in which no one was killed. The court’s ruling did not affect persons convicted, as juveniles, of murder.
There are a fair number of people in prison who were convicted as juveniles for non-capital offenses:
Nationwide there are 129. Of those, 77 are incarcerated in Florida. (Atlanta appeals attorneys were happy with the Supreme Court’s decision, but at this time, no juveniles are imprisoned in Georgia for life without parole for noncapital offenses.)
The United States is the only country that has, up to now, sentenced children to life in prison without parole for nonhomicide offenses.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, “The state has denied [Graham] any chance to later demonstrate that he is fit to rejoin society based solely on a non-homicide crime that he committed while he was a child in the eyes of the law. This the Eighth Amendment does not permit.”
Source: CBS, “Supreme Court Rules on Life Terms for Juveniles,” May 17, 2010