In a 5-4 decision, splitting along liberal-conservative lines, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that juveniles cannot be incarcerated for life without parole if they were not convicted of homicide.
The case involved Terrance Graham, implicated in armed robberies when he was 16 and 17, and now serving a life sentence in Florida. Florida which holds more than 70 percent of juvenile defendants locked up for life for crimes other than homicide.
Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy wrote that “the Eight Amendment does not permit” the states to deny a juvenile “any chance to later demonstrate that he is fit to rejoin society based solely on a non-homicide crime that he committed while he was a child in the eyes of the law.”
Approximately three dozen states allow for the incarceration of juveniles for life without parole based on non-homicide crimes. Over 100 prison inmates in the United States are serving those terms in Florida and seven other states — California, Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska and South Carolina.
Justices Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, and Alito dissented from the Court’s ruling.
Court Upholds Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act:
In another criminal procedure ruling, the Court upheld the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2006. The law permits states to set up civil commitment procedures for “sexually dangerous” prison inmates, allowing for the indefinite incarceration of such inmates long after they have served their sentences.
In a 7-2 decision authored by Justice Breyer, the Court wrote that the law is:
“[A] ‘necessary and proper’ means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned by who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others.”
Under the federal law, in order to detain such inmates, the state must prove the following:
- The individual has previously “engaged or attempted to engage in sexually violent conduct or child molestation”;
- He/She currently “suffers from a serious mental illness, abnormality, or disorder”;
- The prisoner “as a result of” that mental illness, abnormality, or disorder is “sexually dangerous to others” in that “he would have serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released.”
“If the Government proves its claims by ‘clear and convincing evidence,’ the court will order the prisoner’s continued commitment,” Breyer said. “Clear and convincing evidence” is the highest standard of proof required in a civil proceeding, but is not as high a standard as the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applicable in criminal cases.
Justice Thomas and Scalia dissented, writing that nothing in the Constitution gave Congress the power to enact such sweeping legislation.