|Supreme Court to Rule on Life Imprisonment for Juveniles|
|Thursday, 15 March 2012 10:10|
Tom Ramstack – For the GantDaily.com
Washington, D.C., United States (AHN) – The Supreme Court plans to deal with a vexing dilemma next week of when criminals who commit murder are too young to be sentenced to long prison terms.
The hearing involves separate cases of two boys who committed brutal murders when they were 14 years old.
They both were sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole, which prompted outrage among advocates of juvenile justice.
They accuse the courts of brutality for failing to recognize that the boys’ immaturity might have contributed to their criminal behavior.
Alabama’s Equal Justice Initiative, which will argue the case next week on behalf of the defendants, says life in prison for children violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
A brief filed in the Supreme Court for one of the defendants said the court should consider their immaturity to find “teen offenders less culpable than adults.”
Teenager are “given to impulsive, heedless, sensation-seeking behavior and excessive peer pressure,” the brief says.
Children lack “mature behavior controls,” they are “shaped by environments they did not choose and cannot change or escape,” and their personalities are “transitory” and “unpredictable.”
Attorneys for the state of Arkansas argue that life in prison without parole for juveniles fits with generally accepted societal norms for punishing criminals.
They also say the 10th Amendment state’s rights give them a right to run their prison system according to their own standards. Nineteen states have joined Arkansas in its Supreme Court brief.
Both of the boys in the Supreme Court case come from violent homes where they were neglected. Both started out committing crimes not intended as murders but which turned into homicide through sloppy planning.
One of them, Evan James Miller, came from a troubled background in rural Alabama that included an abusive father. He tried to commit suicide six times and was treated for mental health problems. He spent several years in foster care and also was a drug abuser.
While his family lived in a trailer home in Speake, Ala., a neighbor named Cole Cannon came to the Miller trailer asking for food.
Cannon later returned to his own trailer with Miller and another boy. After they drank whiskey and smoked marijuana, they began fighting.
Miller hit the 52-year-old Cannon with a baseball bat, giving him a serious head injury and broken ribs. He stole about $300 from Cannon’s wallet.
To cover up the crime, he decided to set Cannon’s trailer on fire. Cannon died in the blaze.
Miller was charged with murder, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
The other case involves a Blytheville, Ark., boy named Kuntrell Jackson who grew up in a housing project where drug abuse and crime were common.
His father had abandoned him. His mother’s boyfriend filled in as a father figure but was abusive toward Jackson.
Two weeks after his 14th birthday, Jackson and two other boys decided to rob a local video store. They brought a shotgun when they entered the store.
After the clerk refused to give them money, one of the boys fired the shotgun into her face, killing her. Jackson denied he was the shooter after he was arrested.
Nevertheless, he was convicted of capital murder and aggravated robbery and sentenced to life in prison.
On appeal, the Arkansas Supreme Court relied upon the Supreme Court’s ruling in Graham v. Florida to uphold the life sentence.
The 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Florida held that juveniles could not be sentenced to life in prison without parole for non-homicide offenses.
The decision followed a 2005 ruling that abolished the death penalty for juveniles.
However, the Supreme Court did not rule out the possibility of life in prison without parole for murder convictions against juveniles.
Any revision to that decision will come out of the hearing scheduled for next week.