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Supreme Court hears arguments on life sentencing for teens

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Between 10 a.m. and noon today the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether it is constitutional to sentence someone to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a crime they committed as a juvenile – even homicide.
14, Evan Miller
Experts say that the court’s reasoning in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, which are being argued back-to-back by the same attorney, is likely to turn on new understandings about brain development, which indicate that children under 18 have a diminished capacity for understanding the consequences of their actions.
14, Kun­trell Jackson
In 2005, in a case called Roper v. Simmons, the court struck down capital punishment for juveniles who committed crimes before they turned 18. And in 2010, in Graham v. Florida, the high court banned life without parole for young people whose crimes did not include homicide.
Writing for the majority in the Graham case, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that “because juveniles have lessened culpability they are less deserving of the most severe punishments.” His reasoning stemmed from “developments in psychology and brain science [that] continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds. For example, parts of the brain involved in behavior control continue to mature through late adolescence.”
According to experts who spoke with Crimesider, Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, who is arguing the two cases before the court, will likely ask the justices to extend the “kids are different” reasoning to juveniles convicted of homicide.
“The court has already embraced the research [about brain development],” says Marsha Levick, the deputy director of the Juvenile Law Center who wrote amicus briefs for both the Graham and Roper cases. “Kids aren’t any different just because they’re charged with murder.”


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