On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States heard submissions in two murder cases on whether life sentences without parole for people under 18 and under constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
The Guardian reports:
The justices are looking at two cases involving teenagers serving life sentences. In one, 14-year-old Evan Miller in Alabama beat a man, then set fire to his home. In the other, 14-year-old Kuntrell Jackson in Arkansas did not pull the trigger, but was in on an attempted robbery in which another boy shot and killed a store clerk.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote earlier opinions ruling out the death penalty for juveniles and life without parole sentences for young people whose crimes did not involve killing. He seemed again to be the pivotal justice in Tuesday’s arguments.
Roughly 2,300 people are behind bars for life with no chance of winning their freedom for crimes they committed before their 18 birthday. Only 79, however, are in prison for crimes that took place when they were 14 or younger.
Kennedy was one of several justices who appeared to be troubled by the lack of flexibility in sentencing young killers. Several states that try people younger than 18 in adult courts allow for only one sentence, life with no chance of parole, for defendants who are convicted of murder.
Kennedy seemed to indicate he might favor a ruling that gives judges a role in determining an appropriate sentence, “that the sentence cannot be mandatory, but that in some cases, it might still be imposed.”
Bryan Stevenson, the lawyer for both defendants, tried to resist Kennedy’s approach, preferring an outcome that would force states to consider parole at some point for anyone with a life sentence who was convicted before turning 18.
The Court has already struck down the death penalty and life without parole in the case of non-homicide offences for juveniles.