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|Ruling sends terrible message to juveniles|
The Supreme Court on Monday gave juvenile offenders the green light to commit heinous crimes short of murder without fear of being sent to prison for the rest of their lives.
How else could the Court explain a 6-3 ruling in Graham v. Florida?
The ruling marked the first time the Court excluded an entire class of offenders from a particular form of punishment outside the context of the death penalty. To surmise, the Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that juvenile offenders could not be sentenced to life in prison without the benefit of parole in cases in which no one lost his or her life.
The case in question involved Terrance Graham. In 2003, when Graham was 16 years old, he helped rob a restaurant in Jacksonville, Fla. An accomplice beat the restaurant manager with a steel bar. For his involvement in the crime, Graham was sentenced to one year in jail plus three years' probation.
The following year, Graham and two 20-year-old accomplices committed a home invasion robbery. In 2005, a judge gave Graham a life sentence for violating his probation.
A majority of the Supreme Court—including Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.—felt Graham's sentence was too harsh. Moreover, five members of the Court—led by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy—agreed that the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment forbids sentences such as life in prison without the possibility of parole as a categorical matter.
"A state need not guarantee the offender eventual release, but if it imposes the sentence of life, it must provide him or her with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of that term," Kennedy wrote for the majority.
While Roberts agreed that Graham's sentence was too harsh, he stopped short of going along with the majority's broader ruling in bringing the Eighth Amendment into the mix. Instead, Roberts endorsed a case-by-case approach. He said an offender's age could be considered in deciding whether a life sentence was so out of line that it violates the Eighth Amendment.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the dissent for the minority. He was joined by Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who agreed with most of Thomas' dissent.
We believe Thomas, joined by Scalia and Alito, got it right.
"The court is quite willing to accept that a 17-year-old who pulls the trigger on a firearm can demonstrate sufficient depravity and irredeemability to be denied reentry into society, but insists that a 17-year-old who rapes an 8-year-old and leaves her for dead does not," Thomas wrote.
Thomas also took issue with Kennedy's argument that the Court's ruling was supported by both national and international practices. Thomas correctly pointed out that "foreign laws and sentencing practices" are "irrelevant to the meaning of our Constitution."
We could not agree more.
The Supreme Court's ruling in Graham v. Florida was heralded by liberal organizations as a step toward administering just justice for juveniles in America.
We believe the Court signaled to youthful thugs that it's okay to commit awful crimes—except murder—because society will give them an opportunity to do it again.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|