Today, the United States Supreme Court banned the imposition of mandatory life without parole sentences for children who were 17 or younger at the time of their crimes. In Miller v. Alabama, the Court declared that any life without parole sentence that is imposed on a child without consideration of unique personal characteristics such as age and life history is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. With this decision, the Court invalidated laws in 29 states and nullified the life without parole sentences of hundreds of young people across the country.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), along with the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, LatinoJustice/PRLDEF, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights filed a friend of the court brief challenging the constitutionality of such juvenile life without parole sentences. LDF’s brief highlighted how pernicious stereotypes connecting race, criminality and youth propelled the creation of a sentencing regime that disregarded the relevance of youth and subjected children to unfair and severe sentences in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
“No child should be locked away forever without a careful assessment of the interplay between their age, offense, life history, and capacity for rehabilitation,” said Debo P. Adegbile, LDF’s Acting President and Director-Counsel. “Today’s decision ensures that courts make sentencing rulings on an individual basis in cases involving children.”
The Supreme Court explained that going forward, courts will have to “to take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.”