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)

Post by:
Filed under: Justice • Supreme Court
soundoff (91 Responses)
  1. Beck

    Re. no life w/o parole for teens. DON'T tell me that a 14 year old, and older, doesn't know right from wrong. And that a kid who was 16 and 17 when committing a series of violent crimes didn't know what he was doing. Let's lay the blame on any number of injustices I'm sure some could come up with as excuses "justifying" the crimes, and completely avoid mentioning responsibility for ones own actions. I am so sick of this sort of nonsense. Where does it end.

    May 17, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. John

    I've worked as a deputy sheriff and witnessed first hand what these "juveniles" talk about in jail; it's not about how they will turn their life around when they get out. Once a person reaches (or is reaching) young adulthood (around 15-18 years of age) they usually start to decide what they want to do with their life. It's unfortunate that parents don't do a better job raising their kids or recognize when their kid is not going to act like a civilized human being in society. With that being said, once a person commits a certain crime and crosses a physical and mental barrier there is very little chance they will be able to respect another persons right to live in peace. While I do feel pity for them, I feel more pity for the victim (or future victim) if they release people like this back into society. I expect our government to protect the rights of innocent citizens above all else. If that means a juvenile criminal spend the rest of their life in jail then so be it.

    May 17, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jennifer bailiey

    black culture is violent

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

      Every culture has good people and bad people. It's not for you to judge.

      May 17, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • jswfl

      Not agreeing with her comment, but it is America and people are allowed to judge. Every single last one of us does it in some way, shape or form. Those who deny it are usually the worst offenders.

      May 17, 2010 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jersey Girl

      How and why did it get so violent?

      May 17, 2010 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • woeisme

      now now...let's not point fingers...have you ever watched snapped? american justice?

      May 17, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jersey Girl

    WOW I can't believe there were so many post about hanging/lynching a person.. We have come so far in this country...NOT

    May 17, 2010 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. DC Johnny

    I'm growing ever sick and tired of the lack of responsibility in this country.

    If someone commits an adult-type crime, then somebody should have to pay the adult-type sacrifice. I'm all for a discussion on whether the criminal child should pay the dues or the neglectful parents, but someone has to do it.

    We are setting precedent after precedent that tells deadbeat parents that it's okay for you to let your children misbehave, and tells children that it's okay to misbehave because you're too young to be punished.

    If a 15 year-old kid kills his classmate, put the kid in prison for life or the parent in prison for life. If you start locking up parents, you can be pretty sure that parenting will improve across the country pretty rapidly.

    You know who has no drug problem? Singapore.

    May 17, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      Umm, no, it won't improve parenting– all it will do is hold someone else responsible for the crimes of another person. If this is your idea of justice, you would do well to live in Afghanistan.

      May 17, 2010 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jersey Girl

    @woeisme, exactly my point too. crime has no boundaries.

    May 17, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. woeisme

    ....jennifer bailey...that was a harsh statement about the black culture...who used violence on the black race? i know it was a long long time ago but hey it happened...don't be so quick to judge...not by race anyway....maybe by individuals

    May 17, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jg

    I hate violent criminals and I DO believe cruel and unusual punishment is warranted in some cases, but a lot of you are jumping from A to E. Are they violent? YES! Did they kill someone? NO! Are deviant children more likely to be rehabilitated than adults? HELL YES! Should they be rewarded for good behavior with lightened sentences or community service in lieu of prison? What's the purpose of parole?
    The parole system is supposed to be a means for convicts who have been rehabilitated to return to society early. If you're against parole b/c you don't believe in rehabilitation, then you've got to apply the same principle to people who commit "white collar" crimes. If you think someone who uses deceit to rob a dozen families out of their life savings is more morally acceptable then someone who uses physical force to rob a dozen families of their current possessions, then you're wrong. They're both monsters and should be handled the same way.
    If you think violent criminals should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, I'M WITH YOU. But remember that it's only fair and just when we apply that principle to all criminals, even your neighbor who cheated on his taxes.

    May 17, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. AGuest9

    The problem is that the 12 year old took away another's life. The victim doesn't get the break of only being 12 years old, so they don't really die. There is reality to deal with her. Do the crime, do the time.

    May 17, 2010 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. angie

    It's a problem here. I am a mother of 3 with joint custody. The dad's tell the kids they don't have to listen to me. I am just the garbage their dad's chewed up and spit out. Now the kids are out of control. The courts continuously let the in-laws terrorize me in court even though I have been relocated by the court system. Go figure. The in-laws have lots of money & continue to use the courts to badger me. I am an online college student trying to piece my life back together & get the kids straightened out. The in-laws will not stop. Their son is a heroin addict who even failed his test in court in front of the judge and the judge still let him have the little one because he lives with his mom and I was still in a shelter for abused women. Now the child is 7 after all this time fulling around with red tape, money and courts and does not want to be took from his grandma. She really does have a good home for him. But you know what. I do too know. I was placed in low income for disabilities. I am deaf. I have a very nice home now for my children. It's too late. They have been all over the streets and with dad's that just let them do whatever. I have no control. They are out of control. What are you suppose to do. This is how we get these juvies running around. The kids should have never been separated from their mom in the first place. The shelter said my oldest son and daughter were too old to stay with me in the shelter. What the heck is that. Now they are in a spiraling downward life of hell!

    May 17, 2010 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. williamofnj

    Bring back capital punishment. I am sick and tired of reading that a newly released inmate committed a similar or worst crime.

    May 17, 2010 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  12. red

    I just feel our society as a whole has become desensitized to so much that what once was unheard of is now acceptable. The structure of family is gone in most cultures, so kids nowdays have no solid foundations and tend to get into trouble more. Whether we want to admit it or not, they are the future and should be our main focus. They deal with so much more than we did at their young ages and want to treat them like adults. Who kills at 12? Obviously someone who needs some help. Our kids' innocence is being robbed daily through tv, radio and the internet, but what are we doing to stop it? Debating on a blog changes nothing. Every parent on here, just consider this for a moment. Your child that was raised to obey the law, respect people and all that good stuff, can be just one bad decision away from being that 12, 16, or 19 year old child. So do they still deserve life WITHOUT parole?

    May 17, 2010 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Calvin Hobbes

    Like the Supreme Court, in more generalized terms, the courts are exceeding their authority. They are intent in making policy and the laws rather than deciding the applicability of current laws. If there are no laws dealing with the issue they need to push that back to Congress to answer with a law, not enhance current laws or apply laws from other nations to U.S. law. The courts are not made to make laws, period. By doing so they are ripping apart this societyl and destroying the fabric of this nation. Because they are making laws rather than applying them, there is no real chance of common sense justice. The U.S. judicial system should be completely revamped from top to bottom.

    May 17, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Radar

    Ok Alex, I'm not sure you read the teen's background carefully. This was not some poor teen with a first offense on his record. This was a kid on PAROLE for a previous crime who commits not ONE, but a SERIES of VIOLENT home-invasion robberies and receives a life sentence. He is a habitual criminal; not one lacking in momentary bad judgment. If we do not start putting these offenders away for good we will be overrun with them. Our horribly ineffective justices have taken all the teeth out of our judicial system. The time to do something to save this teen was before he committed his first offense.

    May 18, 2010 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
  15. Brokenhearted Grandaughter

    Unbelievable! Two teenaged thugs decided to beat, drag, kick, hit my grandmother over the head with a lamp, tied her up with rope, then drag her to another room, shot her not once, but twice! These thugs never apologized, surely didn't expect them to. Fast forward 10 yrs, one gets taken off Death Row, and placed to life in prison. So.... now they want to justify and call it cruel and unsual punishment?! Haha... what a joke! Live in my world for awhile! It's still a very dark place just to even hear their names!

    May 18, 2010 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark Alex

      Well, no need to worry YET, because this ruling applies only to non-homicide crimes. Some people (my parents too, unfortunately) are out of touch with reality, they assume that everyone in prison are nice friendly people who want to become the next Mr. Rogers if it weren't for that darn system locking them up.

      Animals belong in cages. End of story.

      May 18, 2010 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4