The United States Supreme Court, in three rulings since 2005, has made it clear that children are “constitutionally different” from adults. Due to unique characteristics, they are not deserving of our nation’s harshest punishments.
More than 2,000 people are currently in prison serving mandatory life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed as youths. In each of these cases, the judge had no choice but to impose this sentence. For youth facing life sentences, Miller v. Alabama now requires alternative sentencing options and the consideration of certain factors related to youthfulness at sentencing – including a child’s maturity, role in the crime, home environment and potential for rehabilitation. Since the court ruled that those mandatory sentences violate juveniles’ Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, all of those now serving those terms should be given new hearings. Had judges in those cases been given sentencing discretion, fewer severe sentences might have been imposed.