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Life in prison for criminal teens? Supreme Court to decide.

Two Florida teens were given life sentences without parole for nonlethal crimes. The top court will consider if the punishments are constitutional.

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The US Supreme Court announced Monday that it would take up two cases involving juvenile offenders in Florida who claim their life prison sentences for rape and robbery are cruel and unusual punishment.

One of the defendants was 13 at the time he allegedly raped a 72-year-old woman in Pensacola. The other was 17 when he was charged with participating in a series of robberies.

At issue in these cases is whether the fundamental principles supporting a 2005 Supreme Court decision that declared the death penalty unconstitutional for juveniles should also be applied to life imprisonment sentences meted out to juveniles convicted of nonlethal crimes.

The two cases, Joe Harris Sullivan v. Florida and Terrance Jamar Graham v. Florida, will be heard during the court's 2009-2010 term, which begins in October.

The cases are potential landmarks if the high court decides to use them to extend Eighth Amendment protections beyond the area of capital punishment to juvenile offenders who have been convicted and punished as adults.

"This court has recognized that the Eighth Amendment requires the states to treat juveniles differently than adults, at least in the context of the death penalty," Jacksonville lawyer John Mills said in his brief to the court in the Graham case. "This is so because, given the difference between juveniles and adults, juveniles have a greater claim to be forgiven for their criminal misbehavior."

Mr. Mills' client, Mr. Graham, was 17 when he allegedly violated his probation on an attempted armed robbery charge by taking part in a series of robberies, including an armed home invasion. The trial judge concluded that Graham had decided on a life of crime and sentenced him to life in prison.


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