Since 2012, the United States Supreme Court has made a dramatic turn in its treatment of inmates who were convicted of first-degree murders when they were juveniles and were given mandatory life sentences without parole. The decisions back in 2012 and 2016 were based on the premise that sentencing juveniles for life without parole violated Constitution, namely its Eighth Amendment and the offenders’ right to be considered for parole. The ground for release was the prisoners’ ability to demonstrate personal growth and change, which was seen as the evidence of their transient immaturity at the time of committing a crime (Lamberti, 2015; Seiler, 2013). As a matter of fact, the Court’s decision was based on the findings of developmental psychology and was guided by the belief that children were different constitutionally in their culpability level (Seiler, 2013). Moreover, their growth and maturity could be sufficient reason to give them a chance to regain their freedom. MAIN CLAIM: Even though the U.S. Supreme Court decision generated outrage among the opponents of granting paroles to juveniles who received mandatory life sentences, I support this decision because I, too, find it unconstitutional and illegal to sentence children by the same legal norms as adults, because the crimes committed by juveniles were committed by psychologically immature individuals.
For a start, I support the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to grant parole opportunity for juveniles sentenced for life for first-degree murders because I find their life sentences without parole unconstitutional and violating the norms of international law. In particular, I agree with the claim that mandatory life-without-parole sentences violate the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits unusual or cruel punishments. As a matter of fact, the Eighth Amendment mandates that “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” (Lamberti, 2015, p.312). What’s more, it guarantees that people are not subject to “excessive sanctions” and states that the punishment for crimes should be proportionate to the offenses and the offenders (Lamberti, 2015, p.312). However, when juveniles are sentenced to life without parole it actually is this sort of excessive and cruel punishment that virtually equals a death penalty. In addition, the international law holds that children must not be sentenced to life without parole for any kind of offenses including homicide. It also states that life without parole sentences are cruel, degrading, and unusual treatments with regard to juveniles and children (Lamberti, 2015). Besides, the legal philosophy that guided the mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles was not rehabilitative, as it should have been, but punitive, with emphasis on the pre-Enlightenment, backward idea that juveniles needed to be punished in the same way as adults because they were inherently evil (Seiler, 2013).
Secondly, I support the landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding this type of sentences because I, too, consider the crimes to have been committed by psychologically immature individuals. Lamberti (2015) outlines a number of recent findings in developmental psychology, which allow claiming that juveniles who were involved in murders or murdered demonstrated the characteristics of their age. In fact, they were children “more prone to risky behavior than adults,” dependent on negative peer influences, incapable of weighing the consequences of what they do in a sufficient manner, and less able than adults to control their emotions or impulses (Lamberti, 2015, p.334). I find the arguments set forth in PBS documentary Second Chance Kids truly compelling because they allow seeing the psychology behind murders committed by such teenagers as Rolan or behind Joey Donovan’s aggressive behavior towards the MIT student from Norway. As a matter of fact, neither Rolan nor Donovan is the teen he used to be two decades ago. As their life stories evidence, they have already received their retribution to the fullest, especially Donovan who was not directly involved in killing.
In a nutshell, depending on the case and inmates’ personal growth, I support the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding granting the right to be considered for parole for inmates with mandatory life sentences without parole. My support is based on the evidence of the unconstitutionality of such sentences as well as on the recent scientific findings in the field of psychology which say that children who committed crimes were not as mature as adults and were affected by their developmental specifics.
- Lamberti, M. (2015). Children are different: Why Iowa should adopt a categorical ban on life without parole sentences for juvenile homicide offenders.” Drake Law Review, 63 (1), 311-340.
- Seiler, A. (2013). Buried alive: The constitutional question of life without parole for juvenile offenders convicted of homicide. Lewis & Clark Law Review, 17 (1), 293-332.