The Denver Post
WASHINGTON — Joe Sullivan was sent away for life for raping an elderly woman and judged incorrigible though he was only 13 at the time of the attack.
Terrance Graham, implicated in armed robberies when he was 16 and 17, was given a life sentence by a judge who told the teenager he threw his life away.
They didn't kill anyone, but they effectively were sentenced to die in prison.
Life sentences with no chance of parole are rare for juveniles tried as adults and convicted of crimes less serious than killing. Just over 100 prison inmates in the United States are serving those terms, according to data compiled by opponents of the sentences.
Now the Supreme Court is being asked to say that locking up juveniles and throwing away the key is cruel and unusual — and thus, unconstitutional. Other than in death-penalty cases, the justices never before have found that a penalty crossed the cruel-and-unusual line.
They will hear arguments Monday.
Graham, 22, and Sullivan, 33, are in Florida prisons, which hold more than 70 percent of juvenile defendants locked up for life for nonhomicide crimes.
Although their attorneys deny their clients are guilty, the court will consider only whether the sentences are permitted by the Constitution.
The Supreme Court's latest look at how to punish young criminals flows directly from its 4-year-old decision to rule out the death penalty for anyone younger than 18.
In that 2005 case decided by a 5-4 vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion talked about "the lesser culpability of the juvenile offender."
"From a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor's character deficiencies will be reformed," he said.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
The Denver Post