On March 20, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, Case # 10-9646, will decide whether a juvenile who commits a homicide and is sentenced to life in prison without parole constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and, therefore, a violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Miller was 14 years old at the time of the offense of killing a neighbor in a trailer park. The facts are heinous in that after severely beating the victim who could not get off the ground, Miller set fire to the trailer causing the victim to die of smoke inhalation. The defense had argued in its Brief that the trial court should be allowed to consider mitigating circumstances and the age of a minor rather than be obligated by a mandatory sentencing law. The government argued the crime was the most aggravated form of murder (bludgeoning a person to death with a baseball bat despite pleas for mercy/help, and then setting the trailer on fire). Accordingly, the prosecution argued it had appropriately used its discretion in transferring the case to adult court where the jury found Miller guilty of capital murder.
It is noteworthy that in 2010, the Supreme Court barred life without parole for youths under age 18 when convicted for non-homicide crimes in the case of Graham v.Florida, Case #08-7412, May 17, 2010http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-7412.pdf. The Miller Court’s Decision will determine whether the Graham holding should be applied to minors convicted of murder.
What is your opinion? Do you feel juveniles are more vulnerable to external influences, do not have the capacity as adults to exercise mature judgment and as such should not face the same penalty for a homicide?