Supreme Court Conservative Majority Makes a U-Turn On Life Sentences Without Parole For Juveniles
Due to the recent Supreme Court appointments made by former President Trump, the Supreme Court has now become predominantly conservative. Rulings are now being made by six conservative Justices and three liberal Justices, which means Supreme Court decisions are being weighed by a conservative majority. The Supreme Court has recently ruled over a case regarding the 8th Amendment, which protects defendants from cruel and unusual punishment. The United States Supreme Court decision in Jones v. Mississippi has set a precedent for the verdicts of life sentences without the possibility of parole for minors.
Brett Jones, who at age 15 fatally stabbed his grandfather, argued that the sentencer must make a finding of permanent incorrigibility to sentence a juvenile to life without parole. Prior courts have held that juveniles could not receive such sentences of life without parole when they commit a crime as young as 15, as it was deemed unconstitutional under the 8th Amendment.
Miller v. Alabama
The now conservative majority Supreme Court has stated that that is not necessarily the case and that a judge need not make a separate factual finding of permanent incorrigibility before sentencing a murderer who was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime to life without parole. The USSC cited Miller v. Alabama, 567 U. S. 460 (2012), which states that “an individual who commits a homicide when he or she is under 18 may be sentenced to life without parole, but only if the sentence is not mandatory and the sentencer, therefore, has the discretion to impose a lesser punishment.” Justice Kavanaugh, who authored the opinion, also declared that if the state considers the youth of the offender during sentencing, no other analysis is required.
Jones v. Mississippi
Jones v. Mississippi was the first time the court has heard arguments in a juvenile sentencing case with the three Trump appointees on the bench, one of them being Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who replaced the recently deceased Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Kavanaugh stated that “it is the responsibility of the states – not courts – to make those broad moral and policy judgments about juvenile sentencing reform”. Life sentencing for juvenile defendants has been a large topic of debate for individual states. In fact, 25 out of 50 states have banned such sentences, with Maryland being the most recent. California abolished life without parole for juveniles in October of 2019 via Senate Bill 394.
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