US Supreme Court holds no life without for juveniles on non-murder offenses: 5 Nevada cases at issue

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This morning the US Supreme Court issued a decision in Graham v. Florida.  The defendant was 16 years old when he was sentenced to life for a burglary offense.  Florida does not have a parole system, so he could not be released absent a grant of executive clemency.  The Court, in a 6-3 decision, holds that the sentence violates the 8th Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment.

The Court notes that although most states allow for a life-without sentence for juvenile offenders for some non-homicide offenses, only 129 juvenile offenders are serving such sentences, and of those 77 are in Florida.   The remaining 52 imprisonments are in 10 states and the federal system.  The Court relies upon the rarity of the sentence in finding that it is cruel and unusual, as well as the inadequacy of penological theory to justify the sentence.  It notes that a study's authors were not ably to obtain a definite tally for Nevada (or Utah and Virginia), but the Court's research shows that Nevada has five juvenile nonhomicide offenders serving life without parole sentences.  The Court also finds that nonhomicide crimes cannot be compared to murder in their severity and irrevocability.  A life sentence may be imposed, but the State must provide a meaningful opportunity for release.  The Court also notes that the United States is the only country that imposes this type of sentence.

The Court quotes former-Nevada Supreme Court Justice Springer in Naovarath v. State, 105 Nev. 525, 526, 779 P.2d 944 (1989): "[T]his sentence [of life without the possibility of parole] 'means denial of hope; it means that good behavior and character improvement are immaterial; it means whatever the future might hold in store for the mind and spirit of [the convict], he will remain in prison for the rest of his days.'"

The majority opinion is authored by Justice Kennedy and joined by justices Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor.  Justice Stevens filed a concurring opinion that was joined by justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor.  Justice Roberts filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.  Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justice Scalia and in part by Justice Alito.  Justice Alito also filed a dissenting opinion.

The Court issued two other opinions today.  In United States v. Comstock, the Court in a 7-2 decision authored by Justice Breyer, Congress acted within its authority in enacting 18 USC 4248, which allows the civil commitment of mentally ill federal prisoners who are sexually dangerous. 

In Abbott v. Abbott, the Court holds that a parent has a right of custody under the Hague convention on child abduction that gives the parent authority to consent before the other parent can remove a child fromt he country where the child is living.

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This page contains a single entry by JoNell published on May 17, 2010 8:48 AM.

Order granted re: Humbold County Public Defender vs. Sixth J.D. was the previous entry in this blog.

Ninth Circuit issues a great decision on competency is the next entry in this blog.

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