Supreme Court rejects mandatory life-without-parole for youth

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On June 25th, 2012 the United States Supreme Court held that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”) for youth are unconstitutional. In Miller v. Alabama, the Court found that such extreme sentences for children violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“While this decision is a step in the right direction, the Supreme Court missed an opportunity to bring the U.S. up to speed with international law and prohibit Life Without Parole sentences for youth altogether,” noted Sumayyah Waheed of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

The decision will not directly impact California, which allows courts the discretion to sentence youth aged 16 or 17 to either LWOP (which is the default), or 25 years to life.

However, the Supreme Court made it clear that the extreme sentence of a youth to die in prison should be “uncommon.” Moreover, the Court reaffirmed the established legal principle that “children are different.” California courts, judges and prosecutors should take note and drastically reduce the numbers of youth tracked to the adult court system.

Likewise, the California State Legislature can now take a cue from the United States Supreme Court and pass SB 9, which would allow those with juvenile LWOP sentences to seek a rehearing under specific circumstances.

The award-winning Ella Baker Center for Human Rights will continue its fight for effective juvenile justice reform that saves money and saves lives.