December 27, 2009 By Wallin & Klarich

Recently, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases involving life sentences without the option for parole for minors. The two cases, Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida both involved two minors who were convicted of serious felonies when they were 16 and 13 years old, respectively. The boys were subsequently sentenced to life in prison and their cases are now before the United States Supreme Court.

The attorneys for the boys argue that life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses violates the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Most of the recent Supreme Court decisions involving cruel and unusual punishment have been decided by a 5-4 vote. It is anticipated that this decision may result in a similar close 5-4 decision.

Chief Justice John Roberts made two revealing comments during the oral argument-both of which seem to suggest that he is willing to compromise. Initially, Justice Roberts said that his “initial instinct is that the difference in life and life without parole is just not a factor in deterrence” asking “Why does a juvenile have a constitutional right to hope, but an adult does not.” Later in the proceedings, Justice Roberts commented that it would be best not to draw a hard line but instead to allow judges to take special account of a juvenile’s age when deciding whether the sentence is proportional to the crime. This would allow minors to cite their age when appealing the harshness of a sentence and courts would handle the issue on a case-by-case basis.

A decision in the case is not expected until next year, but the odds are favorable that there will be a systemic change in how juveniles are sentenced. If you or a loved one has been charged or convicted of a juvenile offense, it is important that you contact an experienced California juvenile defense attorney at Wallin & Klarich. Our attorneys have over 30 years of experience handling juvenile cases and appeals. Depending on the outcome of the two cases at the Supreme Court, there may be an opportunity to argue (on appeal) certain juvenile sentences. The attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have the skills and expertise to provide our clients with the best possible defense. Our attorneys can be reached by phone at 1-888-280-6839 or through our website at We will be there when you call.

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