Juvenile crimes & jail time – part 2
Whatever the systemic deficiencies in the youth sentencing system for juvenile crimes, most advocates agree that the biggest problem with life sentences without parole for juveniles is one of simple fairness. The widely held scientific consensus is that teenagers’ brains are not fully developed; teens have a diminished ability to comprehend the consequences of their actions; and they are more easily influenced by peer pressure. Furthermore, youths have a great potential to be able to change their behavior over time – to become fully rehabilitated, law-abiding citizens. Is it right, then, to impose a lifetime behind bars on someone not fully in control of his or her actions, who may in time develop a stronger moral compass? Many advocates would answer that question with a resounding “no,” and they have brought their battle to the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation’s highest court heard oral arguments in March, 2012, in two cases in which 14-year-olds were convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole. Defense lawyers argue that life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court accepted the arguments that minors are physiology predisposed to impulsivity and are less able to foresee consequences when it struck down the death penalty for juveniles in 2005. But, in its decision invalidating the death penalty for juveniles as cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court discussed the availability of life without parole as an alternative, suggesting that at the time the Court considered life sentences a constitutional punishment for juvenile crimes.