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May 17, 2010

SCOTUS finds Eighth Amendment problem with juve LWOP in Graham

The Supreme Court has handed down its biggest Eighth Amendment ruling in non-capital cases in a long time, and it is a victory for the defendant.  Here is what SCOTUSblog has to say so far:

The Court, in an opinion again written by Kennedy, rules that it is unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile offender to life in prison without parole when the crime does not involve murder. The opinion is based on the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual" punishment.

The vote is 6-3, reversing and remanding Graham v. Florida.

Justice Thomas dissents, joined by Scalia and in part by Alito. Alito dissents in an opinion for himself. Justice Stevens concurs, joined by Ginsburg and Sotomayor, even though the three of those Justices also joined the Kennedy majority opinion. Chief Justice Roberts joins in the judgment only. The decision does not cover the Sullivan case.  [Here is] a link to the Graham opinion....

The Court has handed down a per curiam order in Sullivan v. Florida.  The writ of cert. is dismissed as improvidently granted.... Presumably the young person involved in this case, who was 13 at the time he committed his crime, would benefit from the Court's ruling today in Graham....

It is not clear that the 13-year-old, Joe Harris Sullivan, can benefit from the ruling in the case involving Terrence Graham because Florida courts had turned aside Sullivan's Eighth Amendment challenge for procedural reasons.  It will now be up to Florida courts to determine whether Sullivan can now make a new challenge based on the Graham decision.

May 17, 2010 at 10:22 AM | Permalink


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This, like Roper, is a decision that makes it crystal clear the constitution has nothing to do with the outcome. Where in the constitution does it say juvenile offenders are guaranteed the right to HOPE for parole? They don't even say you MUST parole them, just that they should have hope because they haven't killed anyone. The Constitution doesn't doesn't split hairs like that and they know it. Again, if the justices wanted this job they should have run for Congress.

Posted by: MikeinCT | May 17, 2010 11:47:49 AM

Oh, come on. “Cruel” and “unusual” are undefined terms. The Constitution doesn’t split hairs because it left the hair-splitting to be done by others. The Constitution could have supplied an enumerated list of permitted and/or prohibited punishments. Instead, it left it up to judges to decide.

Now, I can absolutely respect those who read a different result into the Constitution. What I don’t respect is those for whom “Constitutional” means for “rulings I like.”

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 17, 2010 12:06:00 PM

I reserve 'Constitutional' for rulings that at least reference the document in some way. Whether I agree with it is irrelevant, that it is just the justice personal opinions with no constitutional basis is not.

And while we are on the subject, I'm glad Graham will not die in prison for a simple armed robbery and probation violations.

Posted by: MikeinCT | May 17, 2010 12:52:07 PM

MikeinCT: Would you have felt better about this ruling if Graham comes out today as a 6-3 per curiam with (a) the Court simply saying it has concluded that an LWOP for Graham is "Cruel and Unusual" and thus prohibited by the Constitution's Eighth Amendment, and (b) the dissenters opting not to write any explanation for their rejection of that conclusion by the majority?

I ask because I am trying to figure out if it is the ruling itself --- or instead the various ways in which the six justices who voted to reverse Graham's sentence explain their ruling --- that really bothers you.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 17, 2010 2:13:02 PM

I reserve 'Constitutional' for rulings that at least reference the document in some way.

The Constitution was certainly cited by the opinion—on p. 1, in fact. As to the meaning of “cruel and unusual,” I saw (on quick glance) citations back to decisions at least 100 years old, in which those words have been interpreted. You couldn’t read all of those cases and conclude that they are not referencing the document. Of course they are.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 17, 2010 2:48:48 PM

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