May 17th, 2010
10:38 AM ET

Court: Sentencing juveniles to life 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.

Monday's other Supreme Court rulings:

Supreme Court: Sex offenders can be held indefinitely

High court rules for father in international child custody case

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  1. seriously?

    Life sentences are anywhere from 25 years and up. Brush up on what u know people.

    May 17, 2010 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      I don't know what country you live in, but here in the United States, there is no maximum limit to a life sentence. It is for life.

      Between 18 to 25 years after sentence you might be given the right to apply for parole, but this article and case was referring to allowing a 16 year old to be sentenced to life without parole in a case without murder. That would mean he can never apply for parole, unless it was adjusted later by a court and he will have to serve the entire life term, unless pardoned by the president or similar high figure...

      May 17, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Kanesha_2010

    I think the supreme court decision was right due to the fact that most teens now are very inmature and have very little structure in there life so by sending them to jail would help them learn that the world doesnt work around them but its the other way around and some will get the message while others may take the another stroll around the the park...but 4real most kids need another chance especially an 16.

    May 17, 2010 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  3. joe

    are any of you 16 btw? probably not.. im not bragging but i have probably been in more trouble that any of your kids. i have been in a juvinile prison for 2 yrs in the state of ohio. For theft. thats not right. the life in prison for armed robbery is not right either. im glad the justices have seen thru all the bs an corrected this matter.

    May 17, 2010 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  4. joe

    kanesha_2010. i have learned my lesson. i live a productive life. i have a job, a car, and make As and Bs in school.

    May 17, 2010 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bob

    how many "re-do"s do I get?

    May 17, 2010 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  6. Kurt Korzi

    Damn.. I had a job and was working at age 16...I was no Angel 0r Saint..But I didn't even think about "Armed Robery" as an option..ever...Wharever the ruling...these type of individuals get what
    they deserve..Social Ostracization for attempting to "Force" another individual into giving them there hard earned posessions..

    May 17, 2010 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. Ann Cook

    Why not give a kid a second chance? Kids are young, act dumb and most times do stupid stuff.
    And when you add to the equation - kids act out what they see, what the hell do we expect?
    Ninety percent of adults, including our leaders are corrupt, immoral and irresponsible, so what example
    do kids have to follow?
    If we lock up the kids for life and throw away the key, what should we do with corrupt bankers like
    Do we allow them to continue their special privileges of dressing up in their Expensive Suits while sucking the
    financial life out of ordinary people, OR, do they also get a chance to style and profile in the Orange Jumpsuits?
    What are we gonna do America??? Stop doing the right thing– OR –Continue doing WHAT's WRONG?

    May 17, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Michael Funk

    Thankfully, this is a small step in the right direction. Keep it up, SCOTUS. You may want to read a fresh viewpoint on the prison polulation explosion at:

    I wrote it yesterday.

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

      Great article. I believe the trend in the general societal thinking is to remove the bad apple for spoiling the bunch rather than doing the extra work to make sure it's not infected in the first place. Going down the slippery slope of plucking out the bad seeds of society will only ensure that we'll all see each other in there eventually.

      May 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Asigot Tech

    A 16 year old or younger is NOT fully responsible and mature, they screw up and sometimes real bad, any 16 year old commiting armed robbery obviously did not have a great upbringing and should be worked with, life without parole ? just kill them now as that would be more ethical !

    Oh and all the "sixteen year olds know the diffrence between bla bla bla" if there to be accepted as full adults then change all your drinking,voting and labour laws to reflect that

    May 17, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Matt the King

    I don't understand why people are equating "screwing up" and "making mistakes" with bank robbery and armed robbery and pretty much everything less than murder when discussing a 16 year-old. A screw up for a 16 year-old should be getting caught sneaking out of the house or trying to peek into the girls' locker room, or hiding a six-pack in the woods. I think that a 16 year-old committing armed robbery is a little more than a screw up or a sign of immaturity.

    May 17, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      I for one know when I was a around 16, we used to sneak into peoples garages and steal beer. Technically a breaking and entering charge. Add in a gun to the scenario and you are pretty much there. Yes, an armed robbery is more severe than hiding a 6 pack in the woods and at that age you know that, but you don't fully understand what you are doing. You feel invincible. Peer pressure is a huge factor at that age. Half the kids don't even think for themselves yet. You know what you saw in media, what your friends tell you, and what the rewards are. You have little life experience to look at a situation and fully understand what it is you are doing and what you are harming, assuming no murder.

      If you look at your own past and the biggest mistakes you made, you recognize them as mistakes. You might regret them. You might think you are an idiot for doing them, but you didn't at the time. At the time it seems like a perfectly ok thing to do. People mature and change over time. That kid could sit in prison, waste space and tax dollars, and contribute nothing to society, or he could put into some kind of discipline program, straightened out in a couple of years, and come out perfectly normal, healthy, and productive. I have seen people go through those programs and they work. A heck of a lot better than throwing someone in jail for 70+ years... Imagine being 70 about to die and thinking... I did absolutely nothing with 54 years of my life all because of one thing i did wrong withing the first 16 years.. He's only lived roughly 22% of his life... and you want to take the other 88% away from him? There are much more productive options out there.

      May 17, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Matt

    Ok, life seems a little outrageous considering it specifically says it was not a murder... The kid lived 16 years of his life, messed up once, and then sits in prison waiting to die for the rest of his life? That is insane. There are plenty of correctional facilities out there geared to fixing trouble youth. The court should mandate an enrollment into one of these programs, enact curfews, and put more responsibility into the parents hands. Even if the kid only serves a few years in prison, in some cases prison can be a gateway to more crime... why do we want to place such a fresh mind into a place like that...

    We all made mistakes when we were kids, some maybe bigger than others, but we all got into trouble. And I'm guess you no longer make those same mistakes and do those same crimes. People grow up. Not always of course, and repeated offenders should defiantly be punished, but you can't honestly look back at some of the biggest wrongs you did as a child and claim that you were fully right minded and conscious of the mistake you were making. You understand it may be wrong, but you don't understand the degree just yet.

    May 17, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. george wheeldon

    Is it just me or does Justice Thomas just hates the human race, except for himself.

    May 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Matt the King

    According to an expanded article on CNN's site about this ruling:

    "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."

    Yeah, you're right everyone, that really sounds like someone who's going to turn their life around, someon who just made a "mistake" and was "immature." I don't think so.

    May 17, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Olive

    Prison is a very harsh environment, and sentencing someone of youth to life inside is definately cruel and unusual. A person who has been down for 20 years knows the lesson of his crime unless, they are mentally unstable. You really have to walk in somebody elses shoes to understand and agree with the outcome of this case.

    May 18, 2010 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
  15. Eddie White

    It's criminal to put a 16 year old in prison for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole unless he has committed murder. The judge who thought that was a fair sentence should be unseated, or whatever they do to judges who lose their judgment. If Terrance Graham had been blond and blue-eyed instead of African-American, the judge would not even have considered handing down such a draconian decision. Because black people in general and black men in particular are vilified in the media, it's somehow acceptable to lock a young, black man into prison because they're animals anyway. At least that's the picture portrayed in movies, television, magazines and newspapers. It's sort of like the propaganda Hitler used to justice the murder of Jews during World War II.
    Of course, Terrance Graham is not an innocent darling who should be slapped on the hand and then let out to go play again. Black men make up almost half the prison population. Why? One obvious reason is that black men are given longer prison sentences simply because they are black men. For example, if a white man is arrested for selling powered cocaine he is given on the average five years in prison. Black men who generally sell crack cocaine receive on the average of ten years.
    What other reasons for black male criminality? The Ghetto ( Notice the vision that appears at the mention of this word. Avoidance, neglect, despair) Why? The area tradionally set aside for African-Americans was the oldest, most
    rundown part of town. This is because of the history of de factio segregation which prevailed until the mid 1960's. Once the Black community moved in, the establishment took out any large upscale businesses with the exception of grocery stores. (These stores were poorly supplied and charged more for food) (The argument is these people steal. Why do they steal? Because they have poor educations and lack skills. Why? Do they have a poor education? There is a history of black people being denied access to education. (OLE MiISS, Brown vs.Topeka Board of Education, CEntral High in Little Rock, Ark) Yeah, but that was years ago. Why do black men in particular do poorly in schools now? Ghetto environment: Liquor stores on every corner? Why? The agenda is to keep blacks on under the influence of drink and narcotics. Well, nobody forces anyone to stay narcotized. Well, maybe a bleak environment can do that. Even Malcolm X said (paraphrased) "We don't have the planes to bring the drugs into the community. " The forces hit the jackpot when they introduced "crack" into the "hood'. (There's a book that talks about how the CIA introduced crack into the black community. Do a search). All this is merely blaming someone else for why blacks fail. Well, blacks do n not fail. Many black young men and women are in college and will graduate. But why so many failures? Perhaps the imagery of black exploitation movies and rap records and videos. Young people are especially vulnerable. Remember when you were young and wanted to be cool? Young people want to cool and rebellious. The Man in the 1970's portrayed cool black men as pimps. Pimps lived large. Pimps dressed. Pimps had money. In the 1980's rap music and videos exploded. Rappers were about being gangsters. Women were hoes. To get a clearer picture, think of sagging pants barely covering the posterior. It began in prison. In spread to the black community. Now sagging is the style of young people, black and white. What's the solution? Respect people as people. Stand up for equal rights for all. Teach your child to love books. Be fair.

    May 20, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
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