May 17th, 2010
10:50 AM ET
4 years ago

Court: Sentencing juveniles to life without parole 'cruel and unusual'

Sentencing some juvenile criminals to life in prison without parole is 'cruel and unusual' punishment, the Court ruled Monday.
Sentencing some juvenile criminals to life in prison without parole is 'cruel and unusual' punishment, the Court ruled Monday.

(CNN) – Sentencing some juvenile criminals to life in prison without parole is "cruel and unusual" punishment, especially when their crime is not murder, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The justices by a 6-3 vote found such a sentence for a 16-year-old armed robber from Florida was unconstitutional. The court concluded life without parole is not justified for those offenders who may lack full "culpability" for their actions, because of their ages.

Full story

Monday's other Supreme Court rulings:

Supreme Court: Sex offenders can be held indefinitely

High court rules for father in international child custody case


Filed under: Supreme Court
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. D. Tree

    I agree, juveniles should not be sentenced as adults – what's the point of having different laws for minors and adults if those laws are just going to be ignored because we think the crime was particularly bad? Children have much developing to do and can rehabilitated much more quickly – putting them in a system with hardened adult criminals dooms any hope for rehabilitation, and isn't that supposed to be the point of prison in the first place?

    May 17, 2010 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  2. El Gordo

    There are a couple of reasons to agree with the Court.

    First, the human brain does not finish developing until the mid-twenties. Though there is a wide variation from one person to another, teenagers as a group do not have the adult ability to assess risk and to make other adult decisions. Who does not remember some of the things he did as a teenager and wince at the stupidity of it?

    Second, our Christian tradition is based on loving kindness and forgiveness. We can surely forgive a teenager for being stupid a time or two. Some offenders cannot be returned to society safely, but many can. God loves the newly saved as much as He loves those who were saved years ago.

    May 17, 2010 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  3. j

    Criminal insanity or insanity, for that matter, doesn`t just "happen" when an individual reaches a certain age. I`ve known sociopathic 10 yr olds. Generally, if you look hard enough, one can see "red flags" in very young children.

    May 17, 2010 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  4. katiec

    Our justice system is broken. There are far too many District Attorneys, lawyers out to make a name for theirselves, sacrificing justtice in doing so. And, for those who cannot afford an attorney, their representation is lacking.
    Those who are found guilty of hiding evidence, distorting facts are allowed to continue on with busines as usual.
    Like so many in our country, power, headlines outweigh integrity and honor.

    May 17, 2010 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  5. Tim from Tampa

    Good to hear.... A sixteen year old thug may lack "culpability" due to age? So the brutal murders, rapes and armed robberies committed committed by teenagers really don't count. Try to tell that to their victims (or surviving family members).

    May 17, 2010 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  6. Michael Armstrong Sr.

    The courts needs to sentence the little creeps to military service upon there 21st birthday and if they serve with honors then set them free .

    May 17, 2010 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  7. Coffee Party

    Here is a simply question for those who pose a life sentence on a child.....Do YOU have the same mentality NOW as you did when you were 16 years of age???

    May 17, 2010 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  8. Logan Thompson

    Lock em' up for life, just a generation... or two and set a good example for these kids on the streets that IT CAN, and WILL happen. If all we have is a scare tactic, then our system is weak and we will continue to see violent crime by our juveniles in the distant and near future. Pull the card and lock them away, make a new jail... do whatever you have to do, put barney and friends in the recreation room, whatever it's all drama, i don't want to worry about these little "KIDS" making a "first time life mistake" that ruins my families life. LOCK THEM UP – FOR LIFE.

    May 17, 2010 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  9. Hugo

    This is exactly what is wrong with our legal system. I don't care how old you are, if you commit a heinous crime at the expense of another,s life, you should pay with your own. Our society has produced an entire generation of tattooed and pierced gang banging dolts that have no respect for anything other than their own little closed society of thuggery, drugs, Hip hop, alcohol and a skewed concept of what respect means. Mommy and Daddy didn't do their job so now let the penal system do its! I agree with the teacher that gave that little creton the smack down, she should have got an award for doing Mommy and Daddy's job!

    May 17, 2010 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  10. phoenix86

    No one should be sentenced to life in prison. If you get this sentence, they should just execute you – it's cheaper for all and better fro society.

    May 17, 2010 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  11. Brandon

    If harsh sentences deterred crime, wouldn't crime have been eliminated by now? I mean people have been hanged, stoned, drawn & quartered, etc., for centuries. Penalties often don't stop crime because people often aren't "thinking" and doing sophisticated cost-benefit analyses when they commit crimes. I

    May 17, 2010 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  12. Tim L.

    The Time should fit the Crime. Regardless off age, to give a 16 year old life for just bank robbery is not right, now if he\she killed someone in the midst of that crime then yes life sentence should be handed down. I am sorry but kids today mature much faster today then when I was growing up. Kids today have no respect for anyone. They are the give me generation they expect everthing on a golden platter. Parents cant displine their kids today as they could back in the past. what happen to the days when you tell your child go pick a switch off the tree.

    May 17, 2010 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  13. Anthony Beasley

    People are trashing our system without even looking at the ruling! The ruling states that a life sentence for crimes OTHER than murder is considered cruel and unusual punishment. So the same people who are disagreeing with the ruling, when your child or the child of your family who just happens to something you did and got away with at 14 goes to jail and ultimately gets a life sentence, you have no room to complain! The problem with our criminal justice system and rage and outrage have become the norm. And for those people who are so Christian, don't forget, it was the State (Criminal Justice System) that hung Jesus on a cross. Judge less ye be judged. I think that's the problem with our society. People want their voices to be heard when their voices should be silent! The interpretation of the law is not for you or I to do. That's what we elect judges to do.

    May 17, 2010 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  14. Phil

    If we American's are not responsible enough to consume alcohol until we are 21, how can lock up a kid for a non-murder related crime for life? It just doesn't make sense.

    May 17, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  15. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    When the parents of juveniles fail to control them it should be left up to the justice system to control and make decisions for them and the rest of us need to butt out.

    May 17, 2010 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  16. William, from Cali

    I feel the sentence should fit the crime...regardless of one's age! We send the "wrong messages" to some of our youth! and we will continue to pay for them as a Nation!

    May 17, 2010 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  17. Steve (the real one)

    Coffee Party May 17th, 2010 11:35 am ET

    Here is a simply question for those who pose a life sentence on a child.....Do YOU have the same mentality NOW as you did when you were 16 years of age???
    ------------
    Good point yet , somehow I never killed anyone, raped anyone, broken into anyone's house, robbed anyone, assaulted anyone, shot anyone. knifed anyone! You get my point?

    May 17, 2010 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  18. Anonym....

    Do people even read these articles anymore before making comments?

    It clearly states – "......when their crime is not murder"

    May 17, 2010 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  19. A Guy

    People who think "the sentence should fit the crime regardless of age" are completely clueless.

    May 17, 2010 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  20. Ex-Republican since McCain picked Palin

    Some of the crimes these punks are horrible, this is why our justice system does not work. Who cares if they spend thier lives in jail after they butcher someone. I think if you can take a life, you should forfiet yours.

    all those against them being tried like adults, wait until they do something to you. You'll change your tunes

    May 17, 2010 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  21. SocialismBad

    So if the 16 year old has a rap sheet as long as your arm, including numerous assaults, maybe some rape or sex abuse, maybe a murder or two, he can't be put away for life? Sounds pretty stupid to me. This scenario is entirely possible given the gang-bangers out there. There are some VERY dangerous "kids" out there that just keeping doing violent crime because they know they can get off because of their age.

    May 17, 2010 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  22. Get real!

    "for those offenders who may lack full "culpability" for their actions, because of their ages."

    They didn't lack the actions to find a weapon and commit an armed robbery now did they? This is a clear case that the law has not caught up with the times.

    May 17, 2010 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  23. Dano

    I can see both sides to this issue because I did some stupid things as a 16 y/o, but never anything violent. I agree that no one should go to jail for life with no chance of parole for robbery, but if you murder or rape someone your life is forfeit no matter how old you were at the time. Everyone over the age of 10 knows instinctively that these crimes are wrong. If a person's environment makes that person unable to recognize this fact then they cannot ever be allowed back into society again.

    May 17, 2010 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  24. John B.

    Lock em' up for life, just a generation... or two and set a good example for these kids on the streets that IT CAN, and WILL happen. If all we have is a scare tactic, then our system is weak and we will continue to see violent crime by our juveniles in the distant and near future. Pull the card and lock them away, make a new jail... do whatever you have to do, put barney and friends in the recreation room, whatever it's all drama, i don't want to worry about these little "KIDS" making a "first time life mistake" that ruins my families life. LOCK THEM UP – FOR LIFE.
    ======================================================Logan, you do realize, that same rule can be applied to your kids "IF" they make a mistake, and please don't say they can't make those kind of mistakes, that's why they're called mistakes.

    May 17, 2010 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |