In a much-discussed decision handed down last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to sentence juvenile offenders to life in prison without parole when they are convicted of a “nonhomicide crime.” In its summary, the court specifically pointed out how frequently the punishment is meted out in Florida. In fact, of the 129 juveniles nationwide currently serving life without parole for a non-homicide, 77 (60 percent) reside in Florida prisons.
The court also indicated that one of its primary concerns when it made its ruling was the lack of statewide guidelines for meting out such harsh punishment:
[A]lthough Florida and other States have made substantial efforts to enact comprehensive rules governing the treatment of youthful offenders, such laws allow the imposition of the type of sentence at issue based only on a discretionary, subjective judgment by a judge or jury that the juvenile offender is irredeemably depraved, and are therefore insufficient to prevent the possibility that the offender will receive such a sentence despite a lack of moral culpability. Second, a case-by-case approach requiring that the particular offender’s age be weighed against the seriousness of the crime as part of a gross disproportionality inquiry would not allow courts to distinguish with sufficient accuracy the few juvenile offenders having sufficient psychological maturity and depravity to merit a life without parole sentence from the many that have the capacity for change.
Read the full decision here: