Jan 06, 2009

Life Sentences for Juvenile Criminals?

In the case of Roper v. Simmons (2005), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty cannot be imposed on juvenile offenders. The next logical issue is whether juvenile offenders can be given an LWOP sentence -- that is, a sentence of Life Without Parole.

LWOP sentences for adult offenders are routine.  The availability of LWOP, and the realization that LWOP sentences are strictly enforced, have undoubtedly contributed to the reductions in the number of adult offenders sentenced to death in recent years.

But should teenage offenders, even those who have committed heinous crimes, have to spend the rest of their lives in jail?  In Roper, the Court emphasized that youthful offenders are less blameworthy than adults because they lack maturity and are more subject to negative peer pressure than adults.  Should these same factors lead to a conclusion that LWOP sentences are as invalid as death sentences for juvenile offenders?  International law and a handful of states already forbid LWOP sentences for juveniles.  Surely it won't be long before the U.S. Supreme Court is confronted with deciding the issue.