May 11, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court Rulings and State Legislation Concerning Juvenile Sentences

A recent report, OLR Report 2015-R-0089, discusses how states have reacted to recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions on juvenile sentencing. 

In 2010, the Court held in Graham v. Florida that the Eighth Amendment prohibits states from imposing life without parole (LWOP) on juvenile defendants for non-homicide crimes (130 S.Ct. 2011 (2010)). The Court required “some meaningful opportunity” for release based on a defendant’s maturity and rehabilitation in the time since he or she committed the crime. In 2012, the Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that courts “must take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison” (132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012)).

OLR Report 2015-R-0089 summarizes court rulings and legislation enacted following these rulings.  At the time of the Miller ruling in 2012, at least 26 states had mandatory LWOP sentencing laws for juveniles.  At least 16 states have since amended their juvenile sentencing laws in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that such mandatory sentences are unconstitutional. Some states kept LWOP as a possible sentence for certain offenses, while others eliminated LWOP as a sentencing option.  Some of the laws specify whether or not they apply retroactively to juvenile offenders already sentenced to LWOP.

For more information, click here to read the full report.