Miami defense attorneys hail high court ruling regarding juvenile offenders

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling this week that forbids states from sentencing juveniles to life without parole for crimes in which no one is killed, the New York Times reported.

Our Miami juvenile defense attorneys welcome this common sense ruling in the wake of the increasing number of overzealous state laws that seek long and unyielding prison sentences for teens who find themselves in trouble with the law before they even reach adulthood. Florida has been a leader in this kind of over-sentencing of young offenders and finally got its hand slapped with the court’s ruling.

The court based its decision on the case of a 16-year-old Jacksonville teenager who was sentenced to life in prison for a probation violation involving a pair of robberies. A total of 37 states have laws allowing life-without-parole for juvenile defendants charged with crimes that do not involve homicide. However, Florida was responsible for 77 of 129 such cases that were detailed in a study reviewed by the court.

Five Justices agreed that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment forbids such unforgiving sentences from being imposed on juveniles. “A state need not guarantee the offender eventual release,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. “But if it imposes the sentence of life, it must provide him or her with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of that term.”

The decision marks the first time the court has ever excluded an entire class of offenders from being given a punishment that does not involve the death penalty. Previously, the court had ruled that juveniles could not be subjected to the death penalty and that the death penalty could not be applied to crimes that do not result in the taking of a life.

While the court’s ruling should begin to provide a little breathing room for Miami defense attorneys representing juvenile offenders, it illustrates the serious nature of teenage crime. In many cases, the days of juvenile detention and a stern warning are long gone. Those accused of juvenile crime are getting fewer breaks, and fewer chances to learn from their mistakes.