Supreme Court Rules Life without Parole Sentence For Juvenile Offender Violates Eighth Amendment Prohibition Against Cruel and Unusual Punishment

As a Baltimore Maryland Criminal Defense Attorney, I routinely handle matters charged in the juvenile courts of Baltimore County, Baltimore City and throughout the metropolitan area. Last week the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision in Graham v, Florida, in what amounted to the most significant case concerning juvenile sentencing since it ruled that juvenile offenders could not face capital punishment.

In Graham, the Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that juvenile offenders could not face a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for crimes other than murder. The 6-3 spread is a little deceiving as Chief Justice Roberts agreed with the result in the Graham case but did not concur with the blanket prohibition on life without parole sentence adopted by the majority. Instead, Roberts opined that the sentences should be looked at on a “case by case” basis. Here are the facts of the Graham case:

In 2003 when Graham was sixteen years old, he was convicted of armed robbery for his participation in a robbery of a restaurant. In Florida, the maximum penalty for armed robbery is life without the possibility of parole. However, Graham’s attorney was able to successfully negotiate a plea bargain in which Graham was place on supervised probation. While on probation, Graham was involved in a home invasion robbery. This charge resulted in a violation of probation on the original armed robbery charge. Once he was found in violation of his probation, the court entered the maximum sentence allowed by law of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Last week the Supreme Court struck down that sentence as violative of the Eight Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. The Court opined that that a juvenile offender must be given “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation”. This ruling does not mean that the Graham and other similarly situated inmates must be paroled. It only means that they must not be forever prohibited from the opportunity to petition to be released.

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