May 17th, 2010
11:03 AM ET

Rulings: Sex offenders, teen sentences, overseas custody

The Supreme Court on Monday handed down rulings on three separate cases that focused on continuing to hold sex offenders in prison after their sentence, whether life in prison without parole is appropriate for juveniles and how much power the federal courts have to intervene when child custody battles cross borders and countries.

Sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole 'cruel and unusual'

Sentencing some juvenile criminals to life in prison without parole is "cruel and unusual" punishment, especially when their crime is not murder, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The justices by a 6-3 vote found such a sentence for a 16-year-old armed robber from Florida was unconstitutional. The court concluded life without parole is not justified for those offenders who may lack full "culpability" for their actions, because of their ages.

"A state need not guarantee the offender eventual release, but if it imposes a sentence of life it must provide him or her with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of that term," write Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority.

The appeal came from Terrance Graham, who was 16 and 17 when he took part in a series of violent home-invasion robberies while on parole for another felony.

The high court in 2005 said juvenile murderers cannot be executed, and Kennedy applied the same standards in this case, saying a "national consensus" had developed against life without parole sentences for those under 18 at the time of their crimes.

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States rethink 'adult time for adult crime'

Judge: Boy, 12, will be tried as adult in double homicide

Court says sex offenders can be held indefinitely

The Supreme Court ruled Monday the federal government has the power to indefinitely keep some sex offenders behind bars after they have served their sentences, if officials determine those inmates may prove "sexually dangerous" in the future.

"The federal government, as custodian of its prisoners, has the constitutional power to act in order to protect nearby (and other) communities from the danger such prisoners may pose," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the 7-2 majority.

At issue was the constitutionality of federal "civil commitment" for sex offenders who are nearing the end of their confinement or who are considered too mentally incompetent to stand trial.

The main plaintiff in the case, Graydon Comstock, was certified as dangerous just six days before his 37-month federal prison term for processing child pornography was to end. He and the others filing suit remain confined at Butner Federal Correctional Complex near Raleigh, North Carolina.

Three other inmates who filed suit served prison terms of three to eight years for offenses ranging from child pornography to sexual abuse of a minor. Another was charged with child sex abuse, but was declared mentally incompetent to face trial.

All were set to be released nearly three years ago, but government appeals have blocked their freedom.

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High court rules for father in international child custody case

The Supreme Court has ruled for a British father seeking to regain custody of his son, who was taken by his mother from Chile to Texas, a dispute testing the power of federal courts to intervene when fights over children cross borders.

The justices, by a 6-3 vote, said Timothy Abbott, who is fighting to gain custody and the return of his son, has a right of custody to force the boy's return, after courts in Chile said the father had rights as a non-custodial parent.

At issue is the scope of an international treaty, and whether one country's court order preventing a child from being taken overseas by a parent represents "rights of custody" enforceable in the United States.

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soundoff (91 Responses)
  1. Colleen Perez

    I am writing in reply to the Child Custody issue. I see that there is some resolution for the fathers in these cases internationally – but what about the fathers that are here in the U.S. who are being denied Parental Rights by the courts, when the father has filed the proper paperwork, has never given up his rights and has been the non-custodial parent. Because our society gives all the Welfare benefits to the mothers 80% of the time, unless the father is rich. I as a Grandmother have been on both sides of this situation and there are no free Attorneys or system that look out for the fathers. Unfortunately – my son and I watch as the children are the ones who suffer the most. Some mothers play games with their childrens lives to manipulate the system.

    May 17, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • diane

      I agree, the court gives too much control of childen to the mother. If a man is a good father and takes care of his children then he should have the same rights as the mother. I too, have seen children used as weapons by their mothers. It's a terrible thing to see and it amounts to child abuse in my opinion.

      May 17, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gromit

      The reason the courts hold the children ransom from the father is the father has the money in most cases and the courts are about instigating fights for the benefit of both the courts and lawyers. Its a shakedown folks, wake up!

      May 17, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • justice42

      this case was about international custody, we live in the United States of America ,land of the free. I understand that very child custody case is different,but this man wanted to fight for his children. I suggest you take your case to the Surpreme Court.
      People complain and complain about the system but I have a hard time understanding people that just complain and don't have the will to give the system a chance to work for them.

      May 17, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carter Sherline

      My ex falsely claimed I abused her while all the while physically, mentally and verbally abusing me. I finally had enough after 10 years including when we were dating. She was able to get a pro bono attorney and after 1.5 years in court I was nearly bankrupted and left a broken man while she got custody of my now 13 1/2 year old son (divorce was granted Dec 2007). Though my son wanted me to get custody and it was his telling me to ask for a divorce and sole legal custody that finally pushed me to do so she turned him against me and I haven't gotten visitation in 23 months. I can't afford an attorney any longer but I can't get a legal aid attorney since they are all connected to the attorney that represented my ex.

      May 17, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry Hermida

      I agree Colleen! I'm a father of two and since I'm not rich I am also struggling to fight for my kids here in my own country. There is enough evidence that I know I can provide a happier and successful homelife as well as give my kids an opportunity to succeed in school. But unfortunately my ex-wife is using the system to her advantage even though at an expense of my wonderful kids who I think are the ones suffering.

      May 17, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Mrs./Ms. Perez,
      I understand what your son is going through. I went through this for 8 years. There are some father advacy groups out that will offer free legal advice. The truth is though that the system is very biased towards fathers. All it takes is the mother making false claims and the case goes her way. I was fourtunant and hired a good lawyer, but it cost me thousands of dollars. Once the welfare benifts dried up she left the State and my daughter behind. Hang in there.

      May 17, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Berachah

    Hey guys, have you ever heard on mental health counseling for children. Most rapists were victims of violent acts towards them a children. Lets spend money on intervening and getting children help before they become rapists. No we don't even have health care......You blame the rapists....I blame a system that has no intervention or help for those that were abused as children. If we spent money on prevention we would see fewer in jail and have fewer horrible crimes. Mental health and health care has always been a low priority and you see the results.

    May 17, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Emily

      Not all rapist were abused as children. For me that is a cop out. Each person makes their own choices. Sure some have more exposure to the bad side of life, but it all comes down to what choice each individual makes. So yes, I blame the rapist. A rapist takes away every ounce of innocence their victim has. It's not something anyone wants to go through. So until you can be put in the shoes of the victim, I wouldn't be saying too much.

      May 17, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Berachah

      Emily, guess you were not abused as a child. You have to walk in anothers shoes. You sound very self righteous to me. Probably a Christian.

      May 17, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • MSBJC

      Where are you getting your statistics that most rapist were abuse victims themselves?

      May 17, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sephin

      I was abused as a child all the way till my junior year in high school. With parents who hate each other but only verbally abused each other, I got all the physical abuse from both. (Korean parents generally don't ever divorce no matter how bad it is). It got to the point where they eventually used things like large pieces of wood to beat and torture me so I called the cops. Cops came, called me a liar, and left me there. I lost all respect for authority that day but that doesn't mean I'll give cops a hard time now, I'm smarter than that. So I had to stand up to my parents myself and nearly hit my mom. Yes it was that bad. Even so, I don't go around abusing people nor do I ever even think about raping anyone. In fact I always use my parents as an example of how stupid people can be and it helps me keep my cool when I see idiots getting riled up over petty little problems. It really is up to the individual.

      This is just something I need to throw out there. To all the people who say things like "They're your parents, you have to respect them" or some BS like that, keep your mouths shut please. You really have no clue how dumb parents can be nor how bad they can psychologically mess up their kids for their own selfish reasons.

      May 17, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jamie

      Berachah, I thought your original post was interesting, and I was inclined to agree with you, until I read your response to Emily. Your bigoted comment about her "probably being a Christian" and your refusal to engage in any meaningful dialogue completely discredited your original post.

      May 18, 2010 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
  3. Sensible Ray

    What about all the catholic phedophile clergy ? They are all scott free. They are the most dangerous in my mind.

    May 17, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dabba doo

      I agree.

      Priests should be neutered when they join the church. If they are making a promise to Jeebus, they have no need for balls.

      May 17, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brain

      Along with pediatricians, politicians, school teachers....Like how it comes back to just priests all the time, if you are not catholic don't worry about it, worry about your teens with their teachers.

      May 18, 2010 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    There is an excuse for every act. However, not all people who were abused as children become rapists. There is no cure for this disease. There have been pedopphiles since the dawn of mankind and there will continue to be. Now with the internet they are getting more access to their victims. That is where we need to spend more resources and time. These people still need to be locked up regardless. If I steal a car because I don't have a car to get to my job, I still committed a crime and will be punished.

    May 17, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. mattmchugh

    Regarding juvenile sentencing: so a teenager commits a violent but non-lethal crime, goes to jail for 10-20 years, then is released having never spent a day of their adult life as a member of society. This is something that makes sense only if rehabilitation is a serious goal of our justice system. I have my doubts about that... but I would very much like to be proven wrong.

    May 17, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bryan

      Lack of serious rehabilitation programs is no excuse for sentencing a child to life. The failures of the system should not preclude a child from getting a chance to turn things around...it is the duty of all Americans to make sure the prison system provides the services necessary to help young offenders recover. The failure of that system falls squarely on society.

      May 17, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • AOJguy

      Hi Matt – I agree with you. Our criminal (or even juvenille) justice system does not put enough emphasis on rehabilitation. In fact, I believe our prison systems actually criminalize people even further. If a 15 year commits a violent crime, the system needs to take the time to figure out why such a young person would do such a thing – and then figure out how the issues may be resolved to lessen the probability of repeating the same or similar offenses. Basically, our system sucks.

      May 17, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. AC Cole

    Regarding child custody: Stopping children from seeing BOTH parents is a CRIMINAL act – CHILD ABUSE. Treat it as such and put the custodial parent in jail. President Obama – you PROMISED during your campaign to help non-custodial parents. Give them the ability to deduct a percentage of child support against their city, state, and federal taxes.

    Non-custodial parents ARE PARENTS. They DO take care of their children and they deserve a deduction. You would be AMAZED how many deadbeat parents would come out of the woodwork and start taking care of their children.

    And by the way I am a woman and I GLADLY paid my child support. I have a good relationship with my adult child now but my visitation rights were cruelly denied because her stepmother bullied her father.

    May 17, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. bailoutsos

    I told my children to make good decisions. As the old commercial goes, "Don't do the crime, if you can't do the time." My son spent a few nights in lock-up because he knew better than to call me to bail him out.

    May 17, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • YourMom

      Well there's great parenting in action folks, because y'know it really seems like he turned out to be a great decision maker and really needed to get back to that job he supposedly had.

      May 17, 2010 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. n8Dog

    A total waste of our most valuable resource.

    May 17, 2010 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. floridas_boy

    So the high court says that a violent teen can't do life w/o parole until he gets out on parole as an adult and then kills somebody... hopefully it'll be one of those judges or their relatives that that enabled fate befalls. Wake up. There are monsters out there going to highschool with ur little princess... and the court just took the low road to defending their lives. Thanks Obama.

    May 17, 2010 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jon

      "Thanks Obama!" Hahaha what??!!! Did you take American Gov't in high school? What does the President have to do with this decision at all? Boy are you clueless...

      May 17, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      I second that whole-heartedly...and ji and keith too. The founding fathers would be embarrassed by what this country's government has become. I guess phyto-estrogens are at a high in the DC water supply.

      May 17, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • A

      So the supreme court is Obama? He mind controls them or something? Is this like one of those borg on the star trek show? If you honestly believe this then you are too stupid to live.

      May 17, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Landon

      Actually, it'd be more appropriate to say "Thanks Clinton and Obama." Since Clinton is responsible for the two liberal judges Breyer and Ginsburg and Obama is responsible for the liberal judge Sotomayer. Obama has nominated another liberal judge Elena Kagan on top of that.

      May 17, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • AOJguy

      I didn't realize Obama told the Supreme Court what to do... Oh yeah, he doesn't. Take a Social Studies class – elementary school kids know better than this...

      May 17, 2010 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ji

    Ohhhh my!!!! What is wrong with our judicial system!!!!! Cruel and unusual????? Are they stupid????? Man our country once the greatest in history is turning into a JOKE!!!!! These worthless $%^&# know exactly what they are doing!!! They live like that from the time they were born!!! Okay then give them the death penalty!!!!!! Move those worthless humans next door to those 6 justices and let they will change their minds GUARANTEED!!!!!!

    May 17, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. keith

    so are we headed towards rewarding them instead of punishing them? First it was the death penalty being cruel and unusual, now its life without parole....sorry they committed a crime and they need to be punished. Their victims have to deal with it for the rest of their life, yet now we're saying we can't put them behind bars for the rest of their life.....what a joke our court system has become that we are now coddling our criminals instead of punishing then

    May 17, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • AOJguy

      Perhaps it is cruel and unusual because a person that young may actually be able to be rehabilitated. Teenagers are not fully developed mentally – this is proven, medical fact. It IS possible, given the right system (which our country currently does not have) to change the behaviors of a adolescent. Imprisoning a youth for life with no way of getting out is stupid. Punishment infers correction – not just retribution. How can someone correct a problem if they are never allowed to?

      May 17, 2010 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joel

    Total farce of a ruling – must be some pretty liberal judges out there. You do the crime, you pay the time – period, end of story. Don't break the law and you won't have to worry about whether or not a ruling is "cruel or unusual" to your precious crimnal/thug child. ;)

    May 17, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • nwill37318

      Wow! All this crying over judges wanting all minors the *POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE"

      May 17, 2010 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      I agree with Joel, after a series of violent home invasions, I think the little thug should be locked up and the key thrown away!

      May 17, 2010 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • jswfl

      nwill37318, you'll be crying when one of your family members becomes another statistic.

      May 17, 2010 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kenn

    Here that kids, get your killin' out of the way early!

    May 17, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mariposa

      Yeah! They way these courts are setting things up for you, you'll be out in time to commit more crime!

      May 17, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Bob fender

    To fl;oridas_boy- typical idiot comment. You don't like the decision so blame it on the president.

    Unfortunately you prove you are a fool who can't read or understand. The decision was 6-3! President Obama has only appointed ONE new Supreme judge. He had NOTHING to do with this.

    And then to prove how wretched of a person you are, you wish death on someone who does not agree with you. You sounds like a nut case.

    May 17, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. BlueSky

    (1) I love to see criminals to be punished.
    (2) Before I came to US, I thought all people are equal in court. After staying in US for 20 years, I don't think all people are equal in court in US.

    May 17, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • giz

      well, some people are more equal than others............

      May 18, 2010 at 6:12 am | Report abuse |
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