States Can’t Lock Up Kids For Life, Says Supreme Court

By Kai Wright May 18, 2010

The Supreme Court reined in juvenile imprisonment yesterday with a ruling that restricts states from locking up minors for life without parole for non-homicide convictions. The ruling expands on a 2005 decision that barred states from executing minors. CNN quotes from the 6-3 ruling:

"A state need not guarantee the offender eventual release, but if it imposes a sentence of life it must provide him or her with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of that term," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. [snip] "The state has denied him any chance to later demonstrate that he is fit to rejoin society based solely on a nonhomicide crime that he committed while he was a child in the eyes of the law," Kennedy wrote. "This the Eighth Amendment does not permit."

The Equal Justice Initiative has posted the full ruling here. The ruling came in Graham vs. Florida, in which Terrance Graham appealed his sentence for a series of home robberies when he was a teenager. It’s notable that Graham did not argue to have been wrongfully convicted. Rather, the court agreed his sentence was excessive. That’s an important distinction that may pry open the door for challenging a range of sentencing laws that have funneled young Black men into lifelong relationships with the prison system.