Court Bars Mandatory Life Sentence without Parole for Juvenile Offenders

Article excerpt

Byline: Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday threw out mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles. The ruling continued its trend of holding that children cannot be automatically punished the same way as criminal adults without considering their age and other factors.

The 5-4 decision split along ideological lines: The court's four liberals and swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy joined to order states and the federal government to allow judges and juries to consider a juvenile's age when they hand down sentences for some of the harshest crimes, instead of making life in prison without parole automatic.

By making youth "irrelevant to imposition of that harshest prison sentence, such a scheme poses too great a risk of disproportionate punishment," wrote Justice Elena Kagan, who was joined in the majority opinion by Kennedy and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The decision left open the possibility judges could sentence juveniles to life without parole in individual cases of murder, but said state and federal laws cannot automatically impose such a sentence.

This juvenile sentencing decision is in line with others the court has made, including ruling out the death penalty for juveniles and life without parole for young people whose crimes did not involve killing. …