On November 9th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments challenging the constitutionality of juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences. In preparation for oral arguments, JLWOP: Faces & Cases will be an on-going series on The Foundry that will tell real stories about juvenile offenders who are currently serving LWOP sentences.
Life without parole for the very worst juvenile offenders is reasonable, constitutional, and (appropriately) rare. In response to the Western world’s worst juvenile crime problem, U.S. legislators have enacted commonsense measures to protect their citizens and hold these dangerous criminals accountable. Forty-three states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have set the maximum punishment for juvenile offenders at life without the possibility of parole. By the numbers, support for its use is overwhelming.
Nonetheless, its continued viability is at risk from misleading lobbying efforts in many states and court cases that seek to substitute international law for legislative judgments and constitutional text.
Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s Roper v. Simmons decision, which relied on the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishments” language to prohibit capital sentences for juveniles, anti-incarceration activists have set about extending the result of Roper to life without parole. If they succeed, an important tool of criminal punishment will be eliminated, and all criminal sentences could be subjected to second-guessing by judges, just as they are in capital punishment cases today.
The most visible aspects of this campaign are a number of self-published reports and “studies” featuring photographs of young children and litigation attacking the constitutionality of life without parole for juvenile offenders—including two cases that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear in its 2009 term.
To see the entire executive summary from Adult Time for Adult Crimes click here.
Charles D. Stimson is Senior Legal Fellow and Andrew M. Grossman is Senior Legal Policy Analyst in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.