Should juvenile offenders be sentenced to life without parole?

In the United States, there are 79 individuals who are currently incarcerated and serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for crimes that they allegedly committed when they were 14 years old or younger. For most adults, it is likely hard to even remember what we were like at this age. It is disturbing to consider that any actions taken by a 12 or 13-year-old child could result in their imprisonment for the rest of their lives without any potential for parole.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court began to consider the propriety of state sentencing laws that subject children aged 14 and younger to life without the possibility of parole. In previous cases, the Supreme Court has ruled against the impositions of the death penalty or sentences of life without parole, for non-murder cases brought against young children.

In some states that try these young children as adults, the judge in the case does not even have any discretion in determining the sentence for a child convicted of murder. Those states have a mandatory life sentence without parole.

In one of the cases that brought the issue before the court, a 14-year-old boy was apparently participating in an attempted robbery when another person shot and killed a clerk at the store.

The defendants in the case are asking the court to prohibit states from ever sentencing such a young child to life without parole. However, at least one justice suggested that it might be acceptable to prohibit mandatory sentences of this nature yet still allow judges in individual cases to impose the sentence if they see fit.

Now that the court has heard the oral arguments in this matter, it will likely render its decision at some point in the next few months.

Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Court questions life without parole for juveniles,” Mark Sherman, March 20, 2012