Monday, June 25, 2012

The Court, Juveniles and LWP Sentences

In Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court has ruled that the application of mandatory life-sentences without the possibility of parole to persons who were 14 years of age at the time of commission violates the "cruel and unusual" prohibition clause of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Justice Kagan (joined by Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayer) wrote the onion of the Court and rejected the "prism of history" in favor of "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." Where is the evidence of such "evolving standards?" Kagan notes two "strands" of Supreme Court decisions: one which bans "sentencing practices based on mismatches" and another which focuses on juveniles. She concludes the "confluence" of these "lines of precedent" lead to the conclusion that juveniles may not receive mandatory life without parole sentences.

Chief Justice Roberts dissented (along with Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito), arguing that the role of the Court is to "apply the law" and not to determine "appropriate sentences" for teenagers. The Chief notes that previous analyses of "evolving standards" have featured "objective indicia" of society's standards as expressed in "legislative enactments and state practices." This tradition aims to ensure justices are not simply imposing their own "subjective values or beliefs." He then explains that mandatory sentences of this nature are "common," and, as such, are certainly not "unusual." Roberts also scolds the Court for confusing decency with leniency. 

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