United States Supreme Court to Rule on Jacksonville Juvenile Case

658255_u_s__supreme_court_washington_dc.jpgOn November 9, 2009, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two Florida cases that challenged sentencing a juvenile offender to a life sentence without the possibility of parole in non-homicide cases. One case involved a Jacksonville Juvenile Defendant, Jamar Graham. At age 16, Graham committed an armed burglary. He received a sentence that included probation. At age 17, Graham committed a home invasion armed robbery and violated his probation. Thereafter, he was sentenced to life without parole. Graham is now 22-years-old.

In the narrow 2005 opinion of Roper v. Simmons, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, that juveniles could not receive the death penalty as it violated the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution is applied to the States, including Florida, through the 14th Amendment. Thus, Graham’s attorney prefaced his argument on this position.

The Court’s decision will likely result in another narrow opinion. While some justices were clearly divided. Others seemed to waiver as to what decision they will make. For instance, Justice Samuel Alito eluded that there are crimes that are so horrific that they may deserve life in prison without parole, especially when committed by an individual that is close to 18-years-old. Justice Scalia indicated that, while rehabilitation is a goal in juvenile cases, punishment and retribution should also be considered. On the other hand, Justice Sotomayor made a good point when she noted that the maximum sentence that an adult can face for crimes which are not homicides is life without parole. Why should a juvenile be treated the same way, since it has already been established that they have not fully developed yet?  Justice Kennedy was not clear as to the position that he would take in the case. While he believes that juveniles should be properly punished for heinous crimes, he does not see how taking away the possibility of parole will create an additional deterrent.

This case has attracted the Jacksonville local media and has captured media headlines nationwide.  It is an important case for several reasons.  Locally, if the Court rules that this Jacksonville Juvenile sentence of life without parole is cruel and unusual, this Jacksonville Juvenile case will be remanded to the lower court for sentencing in accord with such ruling. As for the national attention, this U.S. Supreme Court decision may have a domino effect. There are over 100 people in the United States serving life sentences for crimes which were not homicides. If the Court rules that these sentences do violate the 8th amendment, all of those sentences could be overturned.

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