The Supreme Court says it's unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole for murder, siding with the petitioner in case of Miller v. Alabama.
The high court on Monday threw out Americans' ability to send children to prison for the rest of their lives with no chance of ever getting out. The 5-4 decision is in line with others the court has made, including ruling out the death penalty for juveniles and life without parole for young people whose crimes did not involve killing.
The decision came in the robbery and murder cases of Evan Miller and Kuntrell Jackson.
Miller was convicted in 2006 of capital murder for beating a man with a baseball bat and leaving him to die in a burning trailer after stealing his baseball card collection and $350. The killing occurred in 2003.
Miller's co-defendant testified against him in exchange for a lighter sentence for his own murder, robbery and arson charges.
Colby A. Smith testified that he and Miller, who was 14 at the time of the murder, decided to kill Cannon for money, according to reports from the sentencing. Smith testified that after he hit Cannon with a bat, Miller began bashing the victim with the bat and said: “Cole, I'm God and I've come to take your life." They later set fire to his trailer, where the man's remains were discovered.
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the sentence on the grounds that Miller's sentence was not overly harsh when compared to his crime, a ruling the Supreme Court disagreed with.
"No one can doubt that (Miller) and Smith committed a vicious murder,” Justice Elena Kagan said in the court's ruling. “But they did it when high on drugs and alcohol consumed with the adult victim. And if ever a pathological background might have contributed to a 14-year-old's commission of a crime, it is here.
“That Miller deserved severe punishment for killing Cole Cannon is beyond question. But once again, a sentencer needed to examine all these circumstances before concluding that life without any possibility of parole was the appropriate penalty. We therefore hold that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.”
Jackson was convicted of being an accomplice in an Arkansas robbery that ended in murder.
Kagan was joined in that opinion by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
"Neither the text of the Constitution or our precedent prohibits legislatures from requiring that juvenile murderers be sentenced to life without parole," Roberts said.