Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Supreme Court Revisits Issue of Harsh Sentences for Juveniles

At a pair of Supreme Court arguments on Tuesday, the justices returned to the question of what the Constitution has to say about harsh sentences imposed on juvenile offenders.

A majority of them appeared prepared to take an additional step in limiting such punishments, but it was not clear whether it would be modest or large. The court’s precedents have created so many overlapping categories — based on age, the nature of the offense and whether judges and juries have discretion to show leniency — that much of the argument was devoted to identifying the possible lines the court could draw.

In 2005, in Roper v. Simmons, the court abolished the juvenile death penalty, a decision that affected about 70 prisoners. “It is worth noting,” that decision said, “that the punishment of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is itself a severe sanction, in particular for a young person.”

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