U.S. Supreme Court Update: Graham v. Florida No. 08-7412:

A Service from the ABA Criminal Justice Section, http://www.abanet.org/crimjust

Graham v Florida No. 08–7412.

United States Supreme Court Decision: May 17, 2010
In a 5-4 opinion by Justice Kennedy, the United States Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juveniles to life without the possibility of parole for non-homicide cases is impermissible under the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause.

Petitioner Terrence Graham was charged as an adult at 16 years old for the armed robbery of a barbeque restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida. Mr. Graham subsequently entered into a plea agreement and was sentenced to three years of probation. Less than six months later, Mr. Graham was arrested again for participation in a home invasion robbery. Mr. Graham’s probation officer filed a violation of probation affidavit alleging that Mr. Graham violated his probation by possessing a firearm, committing crimes and associating with persons engaged in criminal activity. Although Mr. Graham denied his involvement in the home invasion robbery, the trial court found him in violation of his probation for the aforementioned allegations and sentenced him to that maximum penalty, life in prison. Since Florida had abolished its parole system in 2003, Mr. Graham had no possibility of release unless he was granted executive clemency.

The Supreme Court granted cert and the case was argued in November 2009. The court, armed with amicus briefs from the American Medical Association , the American Physiological Association and the American Bar Association, discussed the developmental differences between adults and juveniles. The court held that ” the inadequacy of penological theory to justify life without parole sentences for juvenile nonhomicide offenders, the limited culpability of such offenders, and the severity of these sentences all lead the Court to conclude that the sentencing practice at issue is cruel an unusual”. The court referred to its holding in Roper v. Simmons 543 U.S. 551 (2005) where it found that juveniles were less culpable than adults and further concluded that because life with out parole is the maximum penalty for an adult nonhomicide offender having the exact same maximum penalty for a juvenile is impermissible under the eighth amendment.

The court did not address the constitutionality of life without parole for juveniles convicted of homicide offences. reversed and remanded.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEVENS, GINSBURG, BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which GINSBURG and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. ROBERTS, C. J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SCALIA, J., joined, and in which ALITO, J., joined as to Parts I and III. ALITO, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Case is available at: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-7412.pdf


Sullivan v. Florida 560 U. S. ____ (2010)

The United States Supreme Court also issued the following per curium opinion in a companion case to Graham. The case of Joe Sullivan, a thirteen year old sentenced to life without possibility parole, was dismissed but it is understood that ruling in Graham will allow Mr. Sullivan’s to re-appeal his case according to a statement by Mr. Sullivan’s Attorney Bryan Stevenson to the New York Times. “Mr. Sullivan’s lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, said his client and everyone else in his situation would be entitled to challenge their sentences under the Graham decision”
Per Curiam.

The writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted.

It is so ordered.

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For news commentary on this decision also see:


Justices Limit Life Sentences for Juveniles
By ADAM LIPTAK Published: May 17, 2010 The ruling forbids sentences of life without parole for juveniles who do not participate in homicides.


Supreme Court restricts life without parole for juveniles
By Robert Barnes Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Juveniles may not be sentenced to life in prison without parole for any crime short of homicide, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday, expanding its command that young offenders must be treated differently from adults even for heinous crimes.


Justices Rule on Prison Time for Juveniles, Sex Offenders
ByTony Mauro and Marcia Coyle The National Law Journal May 18, 2010

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