Monday, November 9, 2009

Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Juveniles And Life In Prison

Today the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case involving whether it is constitutional to sentence juveniles convicted of crimes not involving murder to life in prison. We first discussed this in a post we published on May 10, 2009. The case before the court involves two juveniles sentenced to life in prison in Florida. The first case involves Joe Sullivan convicted of raping a woman in 1989 when he was just 13 years old. His attorneys have described Sullivan as being mentally retarded. The second case involves Terrance Graham who started serving a life sentence in 2005 for his role in an armed robbery when he was 17 years old. At the time of the armed robbery, he was on parole for a robbery. There are currently 109 teenagers serving life in prison. Roughly 84 percent of those juveniles are African American while only 13 percent of the U.S. population are African American. There are about 2,500 prisoners serving life in prison for crimes that were committed when they were teenagers. Other than Israel, the United States is the only country that routinely sentences juveniles to life in prison. Opponents of this practice are urging the Supreme Court to adopt the same reasoning it adopted in 2005 when it found the imposition of the death penalty against juveniles to be unconstitutional.

The cases are Sullivan v. Florida, 08-7621 and Graham v. Florida, 08-7412.

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