Comment Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Supreme Court Decision That Mandatory Life Sentences Without Parole For Juveniles Violate The Constitution

[The Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision today that laws that require sentencing juvenile offenders for certain offenses to life in prison without the possibility of parole violate the Constitution. Justice Kagan, writing for the majority and joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, followed a long line of Eighth Amendment case law in finding that a sentencing scheme which requires life sentences without allowing any consideration of the special factors applying to juveniles constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has long championed legislation encouraging fair and effective approaches to juvenile offenders, and released the following comments about the Court’s decision:]

“I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision that, under the Constitution, state law may not impose mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders.  As a former prosecutor I believe in strong and appropriate sentences for serious crimes, but I also believe that children are different from adults and should be treated differently under the law.  Wherever possible, our focus for juvenile offenders, even more than for other offenders, should be on helping them to turn their lives around and to become contributing members of society.  The crucial differences between children and adults informed the Court’s decision in Roper that the Constitution forbids capital punishment for juveniles, and this new decision is a logical and appropriate extension of that reasoning.”

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