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Life Without Possibility of Parole is Unconstitutional for Juveniles in Homicide Cases, ABA Argues

Life Without Possibility of Parole is Unconstitutional for Juveniles in Homicide Cases, ABA Argues

By Gabriel McIntosh

CHICAGO, March 15, 2012 – In the combined cases of Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, which the U.S. Supreme Court will hear on March 20, the American Bar Association is urging the court in anamicus brief to rule that it is unconstitutional to give a life sentence without the possibility of parole to juveniles convicted of homicide.

Drawing on its work with the Institute of Judicial Administration in developing juvenile justice standards, the ABA urged the Supreme Court in two previous cases—Graham v. Florida (2010) and Roper v. Simmons (2005)—that life in prison without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional in non-homicide juvenile cases.

The ABA maintains that those arguments also apply in the homicide cases of Miller and Jackson.

“[W]hile this Court limited its holding in Graham to juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses, every characteristic and difference between children and adults identified in Roper and Graham that supports this Court’s conclusion that juveniles are less morally culpable and have a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults also supports an extension of Graham’s holding to all juveniles regardless of whether they were convicted of homicide,” the ABA brief states.

The ABA also argues that “neither public safety nor penal objectives would be compromised by allowing the chance for parole” for juveniles. The brief also asks the court to consider the “overwhelming opposition” by international authorities to sentencing juveniles to life without the possibility of parole.

“The ABA is not asserting that all juveniles should be entitled to parole,” the brief states, “but only that they should not be denied the opportunity to be considered for parole before they die in prison. The need for such protection for juvenile offenders is made more compelling by the fact that many juveniles sentenced to [life without the possibility of parole] … are tried as adults before trial judges with no discretion to sentence them to anything but life without the possibility of parole. Thus, many trial judges are stripped of any opportunity to consider the backgrounds, developmental differences or other mitigating factors of youth that this Court, the scientific community, and the ABA have recognized.”

The brief is available online here. Oral arguments are scheduled for March 20.

With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the world’s largest voluntary professional membership organization. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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