Friday, March 11, 2016

The Supreme Court and the Transformation of Juvenile Sentencing
"In the past decade, the Supreme Court has transformed the constitutional landscape of juvenile crime regulation. In three strongly worded opinions, the Court held that imposing harsh criminal sentences on juvenile offenders violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In combination, these cases create a special status for juveniles under Eighth Amendment doctrine as a category of offenders whose culpability is mitigated by their youth and immaturity, even for the most serious offenses. The Court also emphasized that juveniles are more likely to reform than adult offenders, and that most should be given a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate that they have done so. In short, because of young offenders’ developmental immaturity, harsh sentences that may be suitable for adult criminals are seldom appropriate for juveniles.

These opinions announce a powerful constitutional principle—that 'children are different' for purposes of criminal punishment. In articulating this principle, the Supreme Court has also provided general guidance to courts sentencing juveniles and to lawmakers charged with implementing the rulings. At the same time, the Court did not directly address the specifics of implementation and it left many questions unanswered about the implications of the opinions for juvenile sentencing regulation. In the years since Roper, Graham, and Miller, courts and legislatures have struggled to interpret the opinions and to create procedures and policies that are compatible with constitutional principles and doctrine.

This report addresses the key issues facing courts and legislatures under this new constitutional regime, and provides guidance based on the Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment analysis and on the principles the Court has articulated."

View the Report

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