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Supreme Court puts limits on life sentences for juveniles

Juveniles who commit crimes that aren't fatal to their victims cannot receive life sentences without possibility of parole, the Supreme Court ruled 6-to-3 on Monday.

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Sentencing a juvenile to spend the rest of his or her life in prison for a nonhomicide crime without any opportunity for release on parole is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

In a 6-to-3 decision announced on Monday, the US Supreme Court declared for the first time that juveniles convicted of crimes that are not fatal to the victim must be given a meaningful opportunity to win release on parole.

“This court now holds that for a juvenile offender who did not commit homicide the Eighth Amendment forbids the sentence of life without parole,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority decision. “This clear line is necessary to prevent the possibility that life without parole sentences will be imposed on juvenile nonhomicide offenders who are not sufficiently culpable to merit that punishment.”

In a dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas said Congress, the District of Columbia, and 37 states currently allow judges and juries to decide when – or if – life without parole is an appropriate sentence for a juvenile offender.

“I am unwilling to assume that we, as members of this court, are any more capable of making such moral judgments than our fellow citizens,” he wrote. “Nothing in our training as judges qualifies us for that task, and nothing in [the Constitution] gives us that authority.”

Reasoning follows that of 2005 case

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