Alabama

Supreme Court Rules Mandatory Life Without Parole Sentences for Juveniles Convicted of Capital Offenses a "Cruel and Unusual Punishment"; Chief Justice Focuses on Lack of "National Consensus" in Dissent

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no life without parole

Among its rulings today, the court decided Miller v. Alabama by  a narrow 5-4 margin, ruling that statutes in Alabama and Arkansas that require life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of homicides as adults violated the parameters set for punishment in the Eighth Amendment.

Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor, ruled that:

[Such a mandatory sentencing scheme] runs afoul of our cases' requirement of individualized sentencing for defendants facing the most serious penalties. We therefore hold that mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishments."

The case involved two fourteen year olds ,one in Alabama, the other in Arkansas, convicted of murders that involved multiple conspirators, including an adult in one of the cases. The Court's ruling also took note of the juveniles' home lives, drug abuse and other factors, drawing from the precedent of Graham v. Florida, where the court noted juveniles were a different "class of offenders" and that sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole for non-homicide offenses was "cruel and unusual," as well as Roper v. Simmons, where the court banned the death penalty for minors.

Graham also found life without parole to be a punishment equivalent to the death penalty. The court's ruling in Miller v. Alabama, then, linked the precedent in Roper to that in Graham to establish that because the death penalty for minors is "cruel and unusual" and because life without parole is equivalent to the death penalty, minors ought not be sentenced to life in prison without parole even in capital offenses.

dissenting

Writing for the minority, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that such application of the Eighth Amendment was subjective, that it was not "unusual" to have sentencing guidelines on the books that mandated life in prison without parole for a 17 year old charged with murdering an innocent victim, and that there was no "national consensus" against such sentencing guidelines. The minority opinion disputed the court's finding that there was no discretion in sentencing the two fourteen year olds in this case to life in  prison without parole because prosecutors could have tried the children as juveniles but decided instead to try them as adults, thus showing discretion to Roberts' satisfaction.

Decency, Roberts noted, did not mean leniency, and the court ought to "take guidance" from "evolving standards of decency." Roberts complains that by basing its ruling on the principles articulated in Graham and Roper, the majority "disregards" the fact that there's been widespread adoption of the sentencing guidelines the court has struck down. Roberts argues that in Graham, legislators had not intended for juveniles to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole, that the practice was rare and the opportunity for it created inadvertently, and that this was not the case for the 2,000+ juveniles serving life without parole sentences for capital offenses.

The Chief Justice did not believe the majority ruling was soundly rooted in the precedent set in Graham and Roper either:

[T]he Court's holding does not follow from Roper  and  Graham.  Those cases undoubtedly stand for the proposition that teenagers are less mature, less responsible, and less fixed in their ways than adults—not that a Supreme Court case was needed to establish that.
What they do not stand for, and do not even suggest, is that legislators—who also know that teenagers are different from adults—may not require life without parole for juveniles who commit the worst types of murder.

also dissenting

In his own dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas makes the strict constitutionalist case:

As I have previously explained, "the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause was originally understood as prohibiting torturous methods of punishment—specifically methods akin to those that had been considered cruel and unusual at the time the Bill of Rights was adopted." … The clause does not contain a "proportionality principle."  …In  short, it does not authorize courts to invalidate any punishment they deem disproportionate to the severity of the crime or to a particular class of offenders. Instead, the clause "leaves the unavoidably moral question of who 'deserves' a particular non-prohibited method of punishment to the judgment of the legislatures that authorize the penalty."

Read the whole ruling. (pdf)

NEXT: Supreme Court Summarily Reverses Montana's Blatant Violation of Citizens United

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  1. Mandatory minimum sentences for crimes against citizens (murder) equals bad.

    Mandatory minimum sentences for crimes against the state (drugz) equals good.

    That makes sense.

    1. Mandatory minimum sentences for crimes against citizens equals bad ONLY in cases where the crime is committed by a minor. There is still mandatory minimum for all kinds of sentences as an adult!

      1. dont bother sarcasmic when he’s on a roll like bluto

        1. Is your only role here to make sure that sarcasmic rolls are not interrupted?

          1. just greasing the skids

  2. Shit, I like the ruling, but I also like Thomas’s dissent too.

    Sheeit…When’s Thursday gonna get here?!

    1. I would say that I like the result of the ruling, but I agree with Thomas’s dissent. The Supreme Court’s job is not to strike down any state law that sucks, it’s to strike down state laws that are unconstitutional, and I think the mandatory-like-without-parole law falls into the “sucky-but-constitutional” category.

      1. The problem is that children, as young as 12 and 13 years old, are being tried as adults in capital cases. If the courts ruled on the merits of trying someone deemed by the state as an adult this case wouldn’t even be applicable and you could enjoy the Thomas dissent and not have to worry about the ruling being moral.

        1. The real problem is that 12 and 13 year olds are murdering people. How does this ruling solve that problem?

          1. It doesn’t, but in nearly every one of the 79 cases of a child killing someone before the age of 14 and being sentenced to life w/o parole there is a story, and a damn good story in most cases. Look at the Christian Fernandez case and tell me he deserves life without parole for murder 2? There isn’t a huge problem of 12 and 13 year old kids killing people and there are massive mitigating circumstances in every case – so mandatory minimum needed to be thrown out. We have a framework for dealing with juvenile defenders. If the state considers children to be minors why can it just arbitrarily state it is going to try them as an adult when there is a framework in place for them? How is it not cruel and unusual to have mandatory minimums for life without parole when 1. they should be tried as the juveniles they are, 2. there are piles of mitigating circumstances in nearly every case, and 3. most of them involve much older “accomplices” and almost all are family related?

            1. Christian Fernandez: The kid who beat his 2 year old brother to death.

              I’m not sure what you think is “mitigating circumstance” for that sort of thing. I get that his home life sucked, but I’m not seeing this as “mitigation” for a brutal attack on a toddler.

              1. Who most likely would have survived has the mother not completely neglected him. Yeah, the family was fucked up and he was raped and beaten since he was 2. If you are not taught by your parents you shouldn’t commit violence you emulate those around you. If you are being beaten and raped, you do the same thing to your siblings. That is called mitigating circumstances…

                1. I’m not a fan of mandatory minimums of any type, for anyone, buuuut . . .

                  If you’ve been raised in a neglectful, abusive home, inculated in this behavior to such an extent that you have so little self-control in your teenage years that you beat a 2-year old to death then I have a lot of sympathy for you, but maybe you are exactly the sort of person that needs to stay locked up for life.

      2. I am coming to the conclusion that maybe minimum mandatories are violative of due process. It takes the sentencing out of the hands of the judge and jury, which seems to be the essence of due process. If the legislature can mandate the sentence, why not the result? Indeed they have damn near tried in some states with regard to DUIs.

        1. I’m very sympathetic to that argument. I wonder if that was advanced as well as the Eight Amendment objection? (Yes, I should just read the damn opinion but I can’t bill for that.)

        2. It takes the sentencing out of the hands of the judge and jury, which seems to be the essence of due process.

          Why is that the essence of due process?

          If the legislature can mandate the sentence, why not the result?

          Because they’re two different things? I fail to see the problem with “you received a fair trial and you were convicted on the merits. That = X year sentence +/- sentencing factors”

          1. That = X year sentence +/- sentencing factors”

            Corrected: That = x year sentence +/- sentencing factors

            1. Reducing sentences based on mitigating factors is pretty commonplace.

              1. Not for capital cases involving murder. This is about mandatory minimums in capital cases for juveniles. You can’t get life without parole minus X years.

          2. Why is that the essence of due process?

            Each and every case brought before a judge and jury is different. MM procedures would prejudice a punishment against a person accused of a crime without consideration of the circumstances. It also makes DAs and prosecutors that much more powerful since they can intimadtate people accused of crimes into taking plea bargains if the possiblity of being found guility mandates a worse punishment.

            It’s a gray area, but I wouldn’t object to SCOTUS coming to that conclusion.

          3. The essence of due process is that you get a fair hearing before an impartial authority. If it means anything, it means the right to have your case dealt with on its individual merits not summarily disposed of as a class.

            And yes the verdict and the sentence are two different things, but are they really that much different? We already know that your six amendment trial by jury right extends to the sentencing phase in death penalty cases. But what is so special about death penalty cases other than degree? If the state can’t say “mandatory death in all cases of murder”, why the hell can it say “mandatory X years in prison in all cases of whatever crime”?

            1. Because death and imprisonment are different, and the judicial corpus is rife with attempts to impose logicality on an emotional outcome.

              1. Death and imprisonment are only different because we think they are. They are both sentences and imprisonment can be just as devastating as death in some cases.

                A minimum sentence prevents a court or a jury from doing justice. Even in the worse crime murder, you can imagine circumstances where a light sentence is deserved. Take cases of spouse abuse. Suppose a woman after years of abuse finally kills her husband and did without the clear and present sense of danger. She is clearly guilty of murder. But she may not be deserving of a long sentence. But thanks minimum sentencing, she is deprived of her ability to fully litigate and get the full benefit of her mitigation case. That strikes me as depriving her of due process.

                1. Death and imprisonment are only different because we think they are. They are both sentences and imprisonment can be just as devastating as death in some cases.

                  Exactly my point. But that thought is not going to change.

                  A minimum sentence prevents a court or a jury from doing justice.

                  From the perspective of mandatory minimum advocates, it prevents emotionally-laden juries from failing to take a cold, clear look at the crime before them and letting cute/sympathetic/white/black defendants “off” with lesser sentences.

                  But thanks minimum sentencing, she is deprived of her ability to fully litigate and get the full benefit of her mitigation case. That strikes me as depriving her of due process.

                  Except that the law has recognized that in some instances as incomplete or imperfect self-defense and therefore warranting a voluntary manslaughter charge rather than Murder 2.

                  And since when should “He needed killin’ ’cause he was a real asshole” been a logical or decent mitigating factor? I don’t want that crap in courtrooms. “Let’s put the victim on trial!”

                  1. From the perspective of mandatory minimum advocates, it prevents emotionally-laden juries from failing to take a cold, clear look at the crime before them and letting cute/sympathetic/white/black defendants “off” with lesser sentences.

                    By that logic why not pass mandatory verdicts? Why should we let emotion laden juries let guilty accused go free? If you do not think juries are fit to pronounce sentence, why do you think they are fit to pronounce a verdict? And aren’t they just as likely to go the other way and let their emotions cause them to give an unfairly high sentence. Yet, maximum sentences for crimes often add up to decades.

                    Except that the law has recognized that in some instances as incomplete or imperfect self-defense and therefore warranting a voluntary manslaughter charge rather than Murder 2.

                    Sure it has. And those crimes still carry long minimum sentences that prevent some accused from getting the full benefit of their mitigation case.

                    And since when should “He needed killin’ ’cause he was a real asshole” been a logical or decent mitigating factor?

                    Since people invented a sense of morality. The person who kills the bully doesn’t get and should not get the same sentence as someone who say kidnaps and murders a nine year old. The character of the victim circumstances surrounding the crime are all perfectly valid factors in determining a sentence.

                2. If she looks like Farrah Fawcett, then she walks.

        3. I’ve thought the same thing for a while. It sort of smacks of the king ordering a jury to convict, doesn’t it?

        4. In some ways it kind of reminds me of “zero tolerance” policies.

          Basically some legislators, usually in an attempt to drum up votes for being “tough on crime” but also because they don’t trust judges and juries to determine appropriate punishments for various crimes, create mandatory minimum sentences. The judges and jurors go along with it because it that way they don’t have to be responsible for weighing all the mitigating facts of a given case and determining a fair sentence in each case on the merits.

      3. This is where I think “original meaning” gets a bit more hazy. “cruel and unusual” is more of a concept than a term that can be more strictly defined, such as “regulate”. I do happen to think that the living Constitutionalists’ argument can thrive here.

        But maybe that’s just selectivity bias on my part.

    2. Sheeit…When’s Thursday gonna get here?!

      I’m expecting it later this week.

      1. When did you get so optimistic?

  3. While I don’t think kids conivicted of serious crimes should be put away forever with no possibility of parole, I must say I do agree with Thomas’ interpretation of the 8th amendment. The Framers were clearly thinking of the fact that English law proscribed torture and other forms of medevial brutality in cases of treason (ie hanged, drawn, and quartered), hence the desire to rule that out as a method of capital punishment by the Federal government (which would now include the state governments). There is nothing cruel or ununsual about incarcerating someone, that’s standard procedure.

    1. Though mandatory minimum can be construed as cruel and unusual because life without parole can be considered cruel and unusual when considering the circumstances and merits of the case. Would it be cruel and unusual for life without parole for a reckless driving charge? If you consider that cruel and unusual you have to take the circumstances of the case into account when sentencing. I think mandatory minimums need to be thrown out – period.

      1. I think mandatory minimums need to be thrown out – period.

        But then judges would have to actually judge! I mean, like make decisions and stuff! They wouldn’t be able to throw up their hands and say “Policy says…”

        1. To be frank, I don’t think it’s the judiciary crying “Legislature, Lesgislature, take me away!”

          The impetus for these mandatory minimums are instances where people feel the judges are being too lenient.

          1. yup…the judiciary does not impose mandatory minimums, those come through legislation, allowing the elected class to appear tough on crime. It’s like the old William Buckley story (paraphrased): if one man pushes little old ladies into the way of oncoming cars and another pushes them out of the way, saying the men are the same because they push little old ladies is silly.

      2. What Thomas argues, and I find it persusasive, is that the original intent of the 8th Amendment makes no reference to proportionality regarding a crime and its punishment. It instead prohibits torture and other forms of execution that had been historically used by the monarchies of Europe.

        So simply put, I am inclined to agree with Thomas that we cannot look to the 8th to solve the problems of draconian sentencing procedures. It sucks, but it is important to maintain a consistent view of the Constitution, otherwise we validate that living, breathing document shit that justifies Obamacare and the drug war.

        1. The problem is that the 8th Amendment has become a prohibition against whatever punishments the Supreme Court doesn’t like. And I am not sure that cure isn’t worse than the disease.

          1. Exactly, and the fact is that there are so many options to fix screwed up sentencing procedures: legilsative action, popular refrendum, having a governor that isn’t a sociopath commute sentences, and state courts ruling that mandatory sentencing violates due process rights.

            1. And each one of them has failed repeatedly. From a legal point of view, Thomas is probably right, but if the Supreme Court isn’t going to strike down cruelty, then no one is.

        2. I do not agree with Thomas. The Eighth Amendment invoked very clear emotional language, and unless the Founders thought “no social opinion can change from here forward”, which, being bright guys, I very much doubt, the Eighth is deliberately left open to evolve. It is the one place where the nebulousness of the language permits evolutionary interpretation.

          1. You spoil your argument. “Cruel and unusual” can be reasonably understood as referring to punishments that needlessly cause pain and suffering to make a statement (e.g flailing someone, decapitating someone and putting his head on a spike, etc). It says nothing about the morality of a punishment as determined by social standards. In 1789 you could be hanged in most states for stealing a horse. And yet no one thought that that was cruel or unusual.

            So while maybe the Founding Fathers did anticipate that values would change, they gave the states broad powers to determine punishments for crimes. The 8th, being written to constrain the Federal government, was intended to prevent the law from becoming a tool of tyranny and terror.

            1. “The 8th, being written to constrain the Federal government, was intended to prevent the law from becoming a tool of tyranny and terror.”

              That’s true. But could people PLEASE quit talking about the Constitution as if the 14th Amendment NEVER HAPPENED. The 14h Amendment applies the anti-tyranny/terror constraints to the states, with a very obvious history. It’s been the law of the land since 1868.

              1. I still maintain that the plain language of the BOR applied to the states before the 14th, but the government people are illiterate like that.

                1. The plain language of the First Amendment was limiting “Congress”.

            2. In 1789 you could be hanged in most states for stealing a horse. And yet no one thought that that was cruel or unusual.

              You are making my point for me. Are you saying that horse theft could, constitutionally, be punished by death in 2012?

          2. unless the Founders thought “no social opinion can change from here forward”, which, being bright guys, I very much doubt

            No doubt this is why they included no less than four different ways to amend the Constitution.

            1. There is no need to amend the Constitution in this case. If locking up twelve year olds for the rest of their natural life is “cruel and unusual”, which many people think it is, how would you change the language? You wouldn’t need to. Obviously, such a passage cannot only apply to what was cruel and unusual at one point in time, but what is cruel and unusual at the time the amendment is being applied.

              1. Obviously, such a passage cannot only apply to what was cruel and unusual at one point in time, but what is cruel and unusual at the time the amendment is being applied.

                So, when “commerce” is applied for decades to exclude farming and manufacture, thus placing strict limits on federal power under the Commerce Clause, there is no need to amend the Constitution when some people say its meaning has changed, and now includes farming and manufacture?

                The “many people think” argument runs into a (theoretical) problem in a democracy. After all, if “many people think” that there is no right to gay marriage (as evidenced by their votes to that effect), then there should be no Constitutional challenge, should there? Apparently, “many people think” marriage means “man + woman”, leaving no grounds for an Equal Protection challenge.

              2. The point being, the Founders gave us ways to find out what “many people think” the Constitution should say. That’s what amendments are for.

                1. Except his point is that “cruel and unusual” is sufficiently nebulous that you needn’t amend the Constitution.

                  RC, think about it: how would you amend the Constitution in this way? “The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution shall/shall not be construed to prohibit/permit juvenile detention for life”.

                  How is that necessary?

                  1. Randian, I’m mostly just pointing out the fallacies of converting a document intended to guard against majoritarianism to a document that merely facilitates majoritarianism. Too much of what passes for Constitutional analysis is, effectively, the latter.

                    And its a peculiar form of majoritarianism, as well, substituting a claimed majority of enlightened opinion for the actual will of a majority of voters.

                    I find it odd that living constitutionalists, resting their arguments as they do on changing social mores, have to disregard the apparent mores of the majority of the population to do so.

                    Do I think life without parole is cruel and unusual punishment for juveniles? Yeah, I do. From an original intent standpoint, I suspect it was pretty much unheard of at ratification, for starters.

          3. I agree with you. If the founders had intended for it to apply only to specific kinds of punishment familiar to them, they could have specifically prohibited those kinds of punishments.

        3. This is yet another example where I think Original Intent fails. Original Meaning does not carry with it such baggage. “cruel and unusual” need not have era specific boundaries. It is, as defined, a social concept relative to the present.

          1. So if there were say a nuclear terrorist attack and the country went mad and decided torture was not cruel and unusual, you would be okay with that?

            The problem with defining it as a social concept rather than one set meaning at the time it was enacted is that meaning can change for the bad just as easily as the good.

            1. If they just wanted it to be considered for torture and the like, then why not use more specific language, as was used in the 1st Amendment. It’s hard to say that the 8th is not intentionally vague and intended to evolve along with changing community standards.

              1. I think it was intentionally vague. But it was vague to cover a wide range of things, which are obvious from the time and the context. Just because they were vague didn’t mean they wanted it to be meaningless.

                1. Evolving != meaningless

                  1. Evolving != meaningless

                    Yes it does. Since it can mean whatever we decide it to mean, that strikes me as the same thing as meaningless.

                  2. Evolving != meaningless

                    I wouldn’t be too sure about that. “Evolving” gets awfully close to “it means what we say it means.”

                    If you don’t like the meaning of the words on the page, amend them. “Living constitution” doctrine is a tool for disregarding the Constitution, IMO.

                    1. We’ve evolved the word speech and press to mean things other than speech and press. Bloggers shouldn’t lose their free press protections and political donations shouldn’t lose their free speech protections because they are not what was defined as speech and press at the time of the constitution and we did not amend it accordingly.

                    2. We’ve evolved the word speech and press to mean things other than speech and press.

                      Have we? I’m not so sure.

                      I see no reason to beleive that “speech” ever meant “conversation with those who happen to be in range of your voice” and no more. Radio, TV, youtube, whatever are just ways of speaking to more than a few people at a time.

                      Similarly, I see no reason to believe that “press” ever meant “handcranked printing presses” or “recognized media establishments” or whatever. Blogging, the intertubez, etc. are just additional ways to do what you used to need a handcranked printing press for.

                    3. Money existed at the time of the founding, yet nowhere in the Constitution does it say money = speech. Text messaging, email and instant messaging are what we consider to be speech, but is not actually speech or a method of conveying spoken words.

                    4. Text messaging, email and instant messaging are what we consider to be speech, but is not actually speech or a method of conveying spoken words.

                      Good thing they included protections for written communication, then, isn’t it?

                      Money existed at the time of the founding, yet nowhere in the Constitution does it say money = speech.

                      Why would anyone believe that the First Amendment doesn’t protect the expenditure of resources to communicate?

                    5. Seems like extending 1st Amendment protection to campaign donations is an evolution of how we view speech these days vs. the original meaning of speech when the First was written.

                    6. I don’t think so, Mo. We are speculating, of course, but I think if you had asked the Founders “Can the federal government prohibit me from publishing pamphlets supporting my candidate”, they would have said “Aw, hell no.”

              2. They weren’t specific because it would have been pretty silly if they had to list every medevial method of brutality they could think of:

                Er, let’s see: you can’t squeeze his balls, you can’t shove a red-hot poker up his ass, you can’t peel his skin off, you can’t boil him in oil…

                Clearly they intended to cover the bases by using “cruel and unusual” to mean excessively violent punishments and for the purpose of causing immense pain and suffering to the victim. Incarceration does not seem to fit that standard.

            2. but the country disagrees as to what constitutes torture. To wit, for everyone who thinks KSM ought to be tried in civilian court, there is someone who had no issue with his getting wet. Yes, meanings can change for good or bad because they are being interpreted by people, with all of their inherent flaws, biases, and views shaped by the times in which they live rather than the time in which a law was crafted.

            3. That’s true. C’est la vie.

              The problem is you’re expanding the definition of “cruel and unusual” to include all specific examples relevant to 1789. That’s where I think Original Intent fails. “cruel and unusual” does have an Original Meaning, but that meaning need not cover its specific application in perpetuity.

              Again, maybe it’s just Selection Bias on my part.

          2. I can’t see much difference between Original Intent and Original Public Meaning, WRT the 8th Amendment.

            1. One approaches Constitutional interpretation from the point of what the Founding Fathers intended in 1787 (“original intent”), while the other looks at the Constitution from the perspective of what the words in it meant in 1787 and what reasonable interpretations could be put on those words (“textualism”).

  4. I disagree with the method, but not necessarily the outcome.

    Juveniles shouldn’t be tried as adults for the same reason juveniles can’t serve on juries, vote, sign contracts, buy cigarettes, drink in a bar, move out on their own, own property, etc.

    1. It didn’t prevent them from being tried as adults or even prevent juveniles from being sentenced to life without parole. It simply said life without parole can’t be a mandatory minimum sentence for kids. They need to take it a step further and not sentence kids to life without parole and not try them as adults. I can see trying a 16+ year old as an adult (since they can get emancipation and life like an adult), but a 12 or 13 year old? No way.

      1. I should have been more clear. I agree with this outcome, but not the methods.
        I also go much further and think that no one under 18 should be tried as an adult as long as no one under 18 can vote, serve on a jury, drink, smoke, sign contracts, move out, buy guns, etc.

        In the states that allow it, 16 year olds can only get emancipated if their parents consent/acquiesce.
        Even then, emancipated minors can’t vote, serve on juries, buy/possess firearms, smoke, drink, etc.

        I think that an adult level of accountability should carry with it an adult level of rights and privileges.

        1. when someone is killed or raped, they are no less dead or victimized if the perpetrator was 16 or 18. If you want to make distinctions regarding the type of crime and even the circumstances involved, that is one thing. But I’m not up for putting some kid who pulled the trigger into juvy for a few years and calling the matter settled.

          1. The issue is not consequence but culpability.

            The science is relatively straightforward that brain development continues until the early twenties with dramatic variatiohn between indivdiuals.

            Mandatory sentencing that treats all 17 year olds the same way is bullshit.

          2. The idea of “do the crime, do the time” comes apart when only one group is held to an additional set of laws. More so when you consider that the justifications for these additional laws directly contradict the reasons given for trying teens as adults.

            If teens know right from wrong, or their age doesn’t matter, I’m OK with that as long those same things prohibit arresting a teenager for possessing a gun, drinking a beer, walking down the street after 10pm on a school night, etc.

            The legal system effectively says that a 17 year old with a gun in his glove box is a child who can’t have a gun. The lawmakers who support this law, and judges who uphold will talk at length about impulse control, brain development, not knowing right from wrong, etc.

            BUT, if that 17 year old commits a
            crime using that gun, the legal system says he should be treated as an adult for punishment purposes.
            The same lawmakers and judges from before can usually be counted on to talk about how a 17 year old knows right from wrong, how the fact that he or she is 17 doesn’t change the facts of what they did etc.

            Well, if age doesn’t matter when a teen misuses a gun, it shouldn’t matter when they simply wish to possess one. If age doesn’t matter when a person is being tried by a jury, it shouldn’t matter if they’re called to serve on one.

    2. Even more confusing is the random age limits. An 17 year old acquires a bottle of liquor, for which he would be cited as a minor in possession of alcohol. He then drinks said liquor and drives. In FL, if his blood alcohol level is tested above 0.02 but below 0.08, he is a minor in violation of zero tolerance. If he kills somebody in an accident with a BAC of 0.02 and 0.08, he stands for murder 2 (vehicular homicide) as an adult. So a 17 year old is not adult enough to face the consequences of his actions as an adult until he kills someone. I find this thread of American jurisprudence disturbing.

      1. As you should. American adults either treat teenagers like little children or like full grown adults, depending on whether it is more convenient to those in charge. Any in-between seems to vanish each and every year.

        1. Mike Males http://www.amazon.com/Mike-A.-Males/e/B001K8JFOS
          describes this as “adult when it’s convenient for adults and child when it’s convenient for adults”

          1. Sounds about right to me. Who else decides? The kid?

            1. Principles of consistency, equality, etc. decide.

              If a 17 year old can be tried and sentenced as an adult for misusing a gun, then a 17 year old should be treated as an adult (ie., left alone) for having on in their glove box.
              Do the same thing with drinking a beer and felony DUI, etc.

              If a 17 year old can be sentenced as an adult, then a 17 year should be able to serve on a jury.

              Right now we have the situation where nearly all states allow a 14 year old to be tried as an adult for various (yes, usually violent) crimes, yet a 17 year old is too young to vote, a 20 year old too young to drink a beer, etc.

              Something is wrong with this sort of system.

              1. They are consistent, Brendan.

                The underlying principle is “whatever will be worst for the kid.”

                You’re a responsible adult when it comes to getting punished, but virtually an infant when it comes to getting permission.

                1. Interestingly enough in a Supreme Court decision criticizing the juvenile court system, one of the justices states that juveniles “get the worst of both worlds” in that they were denied the due process of the adult court and emphasis on rehabilitation that was supposed to define the juvenile court. I don’t remember the case.

          2. Thanks, I’m going to check this out.

      2. The age limit for that kind of stuff used to be pretty uniformly the age of 21. Then it changed because adults wanted children to have access to liquor, voting rights, etc., at age 18. I remember the “old enough to be drafted and give his life for his country but not old enough to have a beer” argument that was going on before I reached the age of 21 myself.

  5. We should not judge politicians for things that they did 40 years ago because they were just a dumb 17 year old. However, we should keep a 60 year old man in jail because of something he did when he was a dumb 14 year old.

    1. When that “dumb thing” was say raping and murdering someone, damn straight. Some things really can’t just be erased.

      1. A 14 year old does not yet have a fully developed brain. Impulse control is still low. Neural circuits are still undergoing many changes up until a person is 20. Do you think we should throw high school kids that are fighting and bullies in jail for a decade for assault? Why not?

        1. There is a difference between having low impulse control and being a sociopathic murderer. You get into a fist fight because you have poor impulse control. You do not kidnap and murder someone because of that. Some crimes are so heinous that the person committing them can never be trusted in society.

          Sure, sometimes when someone commits a crime as a teenager that person can be rehabilitated. But not always. Some cases call for no kidding life imprisonment.

          1. Yes it can. You’re speaking of a manner of degree. High school kids can be horribly cruel with “mere assault”. You can’t say one is just monkey shines and turn a blind eye to it and the other one warrants a kid being tried as an adult. If a kid is picking on/assaulting people repeatedly, why not try them as an adult too?

            1. If a kid is picking on/assaulting people repeatedly, why not try them as an adult too?

              Because that crime isn’t the same as murder. The crime doesn’t demand justice the way murder does. And the person doing it doesn’t create the threat to society that a murderer does. Yes, there are some things you can get away with as a juvenile. But that shouldn’t be translated into a license to kill.

              1. I’m not saying no jail time. I believe there should be jail time attached, just not a lifetime and not trying them as an adult. There’s a whole lot of space between 0 and lifetime.

        2. I think a maximum of 10 years for felony assault, or Class 1 or 2 misdemeanor is not too much. The sentence can always be less than 10 years if the judge thinks the case calls for leniency. Should judges have that kind of power? Sure; that’s what we pay them for.

          1. Scracth the misdemeanor thingie. Misdemeanors don’t carry that kind of penalty in any state that I know of. I spoke too quickly.

      2. I once worked with a guy who killed someone when he was a kid. I think he said he was nine at the time.
        He was avenging the murder of his brother. Gang shit. Cops didn’t put any energy into investigating, so he took matters into his own hands. In broad daylight he walked up to the guy and put a bullet in his head in front of everyone. Open and shut case. Tons of witnesses.
        Judge said to him that he understood why he did what he did, then had him locked up until he was eighteen.
        He didn’t tell me where it happened, but I’m guessing it wasn’t in a state starting with the letter ‘A’.

        1. You worked with Kenard?

          1. Sling Blade.

            1. He was just a little feller.

              1. God I love that movie. It is so dark that I feel guilty for finding it compulsively watchable.

          2. Is he a fry cook who is always trying to mooch a ride?

        2. Well, that sort of murder is understandable….

          Not like say, raping, torturing and then murdering some random person.

  6. Yeah, what happened to “original intent” here? In 1789, life without parole would have been considered lenient, not cruel. I guess it may have been unusual, compared to summary hanging.

    1. life expectancy in 1789 was like 40 yrs

  7. We hire trained experts (jugdes) to make some decisions and we recruit laypeople off the street (juries) to make other decisions, then we react with shock and awe when human nature results in decisions that we don’t always like. So then we strip away the ability to make decisions from very the people we selected to make those decisions.

    Mandatory minimums are the result of political dumbfuckery and are bullshit in every instance.

  8. The courts are a bit obtuse on this one. It’s easy to find out that the death penalty and life without parole are not each others’ equivalents by looking at the appeals of prisoners sentenced to death – they are almost universally doing all they can to get a higher court to commute their sentences to life (with or without parole). Why? Because a death sentence is difference from a life sentence.

    1. Part of that is because that is what they can do according to state law. You get a lot more bites at the appeals apple with the death penalty than you do with life w/o parole due to state law.

    2. Also, a life sentence without parole may not be very nice and may not make adequate provision for the changes a young person MIGHT go through as he matures, but life without parole also doesn’t make provision for the changes an adult might go through.

      In either case, it’s clearly not cruel and unusual. It’s been done for a long time and there is no consensus in the community. Once again, their lordships on the bench are passing down their wisdom to us peons.

  9. Oh wow really Thats like way cool man

    http://www.Dot-Anon.tk

  10. Did Roberts actually say that it is sufficient desecration because the prosecutor has desecration? I’m not necessarily saying his decision is wrong, but that’s really alarming that he considers “prosecutor discretion” as sufficient for due process. I know this case didn’t necessarily address due-process, but wow, it should be the job of the judges to set sentences, not prosecutors. Jury’s are generally not told what the penalties are, so this is moving power that is supposed to be with an impartial judge, and into the hands of the prosecutor.

  11. I don’t think the ruling bans life sentences without parole for minors, it simply bans mandatory life sentences without parole. They draw the comparison with the death penaltiy, but stop short of equating them.

    I suppose that will be up to a future court.

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