Should juveniles receive criminal life sentences?

We all make mistakes; some are obviously more serious and have long-standing consequences. When thinking back to when we were adolescents or teenagers, many of us can recall a few, if not more, poor decisions we made. Teenagers are often prone to over-reacting and feeling invincible. They also tend to not weigh consequences and act on impulse.

Recently the United States Supreme Court heard arguments related to whether or not juveniles should ever receive life in prison without parole sentences. Taking the cases of 2,500 juveniles, many whom committed crimes when they were as young as 13-years-old, into consideration, justices will ultimately determine whether teens charged with crimes should spend the rest of their lives in prison.

While family members of those killed by the serious crimes of juveniles often seek retribution in the form of a life sentence without parole, others advocate juveniles simply aren’t able to weigh the consequences of their actions and should not be punished for the rest of their lives for crimes committed during their adolescent years.

Currently, 39 states have laws that allow juvenile prison life sentences without parole in cases related to murder. The high court’s ruling will help determine if these laws are constitutional and also impact future rulings across the country and in states like California.

Many juveniles who commit crimes were born into violent homes and impoverished communities. While this certainly doesn’t give then license to commit crimes, steps towards rehabilitation should be explored rather than simply writing them off, locking them up and throwing away the keys to any type of future.


UPDATE:  In the case of Miller vs. Alabama, (Case #10-9646, June 25, 2012) the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to ban mandatory life sentences for juveniles, and reaffirmed the juvenile justice system must recognize developmental differences between juveniles and adults

J.D.B. v. North Carolina Summary (Juvenile Crimes; Criminal Defenses Miranda Warning)

On June 16, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case of J.D.B. v. North Carolina, Case # 09-111121,

held police must consider age and school setting when questioning a child and, therefore, whether they are required to give a Miranda warning. This case involved a thirteen year old seventh grade special education student who was removed from his class, and then taken to a closed door meeting with the school Assistant Principal and questioned by police regarding two burglaries. The U.S. Supreme Court determined that children would not reasonably believe they could leave a room when questioned by police in a school setting and, therefore, must be given a Miranda warning. In other words, this type of a setting was deemed overly coercive because children inherently obey authority and are generally under the belief they must remain in the office and answer questions by a school administrator.

Neither the police nor the school administrators first advised the thirteen year old student of (1) his right to remain silent pursuant to the Miranda warning when questioned; (2) that he was free to leave the room; nor (3) was he afforded an opportunity to talk with his grandmother or legal guardian. After questioning for about forty-five minutes, the student admitted to the burglaries. Juvenile petitions were filed against him, and after a hearing the court adjudicated J.D.B. delinquent. The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed as did the North Carolina Supreme Court, holding he was not in custody when he confessed to require a Miranda warning. The U.S. Supreme Court granted Certiorari and reversed the judgment of the state Supreme Court. Essentially, children must be given the same Miranda procedural safeguards that are guaranteed to adults.

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