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.

Full story

Read the ruling (PDF)

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.

Full story

Read the ruling (PDF)

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.

Read the ruling (PDF)

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soundoff (91 Responses)
  1. ArizonaYankee

    Life 'cruel' punishment for teens, high court rules.
    And for the victims and their families, I guess it's who cares. Teens or not, let them rot in jail. The court is again totally out of touch......

    May 17, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      No, they just have a soul (or whatever) and can feel empathy towards the teen. Learn to put yourself in the defendant's shoes. You're about to lose your entire life to prison. No accomplishments, no aspirations. Even if they become reformed and sorry at age 85, you want to keep them locked up, when all they want to do is see their family again.

      May 17, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Arnold Ziffel

    Our system only works for the Lawyers most of the time. Fees and Litigation ALL BS,,

    May 17, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JD

    OK, how about we just go back to Capital Punishment and deal with it that way. . . . they did the crime, they can deal with it.

    May 17, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Alex

    Life without parole for a teen basically says that they are no longer human, and now have nothing to live for. Hmmm, guess who's gonna be the prison troublemaker?

    America is not a bunch of idiots. We can do better than destroy the lives of kids who, while dangerous, may reform themselves later in life. Aren't any of you smarter now than you were at 17?

    Also, there is nothing that anyone could do to deserve the death penalty. NOTHING. Nuff said.

    May 17, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      You probably have never been a victim of a crime, and probably none of your close family have either. I am sick of a system that coddles these little thugs. After a series of brutal crimes, do you really think that he is going to turn his life around and become a productive citizen. Probably not, he will continue his life of crime inflicting pain on multiple other people. He belongs in prison for life.

      May 17, 2010 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trish

      I agree with Alex. I'm sure we all made mistakes we aren't so proud of when we were young but we grew out of it. These are just kids and they need help. A lot of the review that I see on here sounds very racist but all I can say is, why if it were your child would you want him/her sentence for life?

      May 17, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • J

      If you take another persons life yours should be taken. Eye for an Eye tooth for a tooth

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

      Michael – I have been a victim of crime and so have family members and close friends. One offender was all of 14 years old. He was locked up until he was 18. He is now a contributing member of society, holds a bachelors degree in biology and an MBA. He committed a violent felony at 14, was placed in the proper system, figured out he was going down the wrong path, "fixed" himself, and now runs a company. 20 years ago people said he would never amount to anything -that he was doomed – people like you damned him for his entire life. He proved all of you wrong.

      May 18, 2010 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Erik

      If I read the article said that he was already on parole for a previous felony when he then proceeded to not commit one, but a series of violent home invasion robberies. While I will agree a young person usually isn't fully capable of understanding the consequences of their actions, a 16-17 year old on the other hand is. Again, this isn't a first offense.

      As for AOJ, the reality of the situation is that your experience is the exception not the rule.

      May 18, 2010 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
  5. Lamont

    I read some of the previous comments regarding child custody. Internationally, a couple of men have won their high profile cases. In the U.S. child custody is typically not a federal affair. The states reign supreme. I gained custody of my sons 10 years after the divorce. Although not written into law, it is typical that the mother MUST be proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to be exceptionally incompetent as a parent. How often can you prove what goes on behind closed doors, in an open forum, where only one man or one woman (with their biased opinion) is ruling on the lives of children?

    May 17, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Joe

    Life in prision is a total was of money. Death by injection or public hanging is very cost effective and delivers results.

    May 17, 2010 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • BassOMatifc costs a lot more to execute someone than incarcerate them, even for life...unless your "public hangings" are really lynchings, which only costs the amount of the rope and the total destruction of civilization.

      May 17, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. wow

    "violent armed robberies"... are you kidding, lock that 17 year old up the same as an 18 year old. Is someone more mature at 18? Hell no. He's a criminal, and he deserves the same sentence that an 18year old would have received. I don't want to be walking on the street with this tool.

    May 17, 2010 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. greg

    I really do not care if a 16 year spends the rest of his life behind bars for armed bank robbery. Really at 16, if he has not figured this out yet, I dont want him near me, ever. the Supreme court is WAY too soft of these issues, accountability

    May 17, 2010 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trish

      So you say that a 16 year old should be hold accountable for his action because he should know better. What about a 19 year old having intimate relationship with a 17 year old. I'm sure that the he would be in serious trouble when the law finds out, but what about the 17 year old? He/she is not going to be punised because they are underage. So if we are talking that this 16 year old should be acccountable than shouldn't all 16,17 year old be held accountable too regardless of what the situation or crime is?

      May 17, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mariposa

    Those criminal juveniles may "change" or not, but what about the lives they have ruined by their criminal acts? The victims lives are not going to change. They have to live with that crime for the rest of their natural lives. Why should there be such sympathy and consideration for criminals, no matter what their age!?? They certainly showed no sympathy or consideration to those upon whom they criminally acted. Leave them to rot in jail! That's sympathy and consideration for them, instead of a death sentence, for what they have perpetrated.

    May 17, 2010 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mike

    Put him away, throw away the key

    May 17, 2010 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mrh

    Unless they are brain dead they know right from wrong. Lock their asses up, white, black, yellow or brown, there is no excuse for thi behavior and It should not be tolerated ! ! !

    May 17, 2010 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JJDynomite

    Okay, no more life sentences.

    Sentence them to 1000 years in prison.

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

      Pedophiles get how many years?
      Rapists get who many years?

      May 17, 2010 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Matt Kim

    You do the crime, you do the time. Unfortunate for the victim's family if they get a reprieve and is sentenced to life instead of death. It doesn't matter how old you are when it comes to crime and punishment in my opinion.

    May 17, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joe Mahma

    The parents should be in jail. Period.

    These are kids. WHERE IS THE PARENTING?


    May 17, 2010 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trish

      Alot of parents don't have control over their kids especially kids that have gotten themselves involve with bad people. The law doesn't allow parents to punish their kids, what's a little time out going to do for them when they have committed a crime. I'm sure you might be very fortunate to have good kids so you wouldn't understand how it feels like to have a trouble teen and how hard it would be. Every parent want what's best for their child but sometimes it get's out of control. They should at the most get help not be locked up.

      May 17, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Stan Serf

    Do the adult crime, do the adult time. Do the adult thing, then swing (from a tree) like an adult.

    May 17, 2010 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
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