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YouSpeak: Justice for Juveniles

Is life without parole fair for those under 18?


Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in two murder cases testing whether sentencing someone under the age of 18 to life in prison without parole represents cruel and unusual punishment.

The two cases involve 14-year-old boys who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. In one case, which took place in Arkansas, the juvenile did not commit the murder, but was an accomplice. Under that state’s law, the same penalty is imposed on the accomplice as on the killer. In the other, an Alabama juvenile, along with an older friend, had beaten a neighbor with a bat and set fire to his trailer after robbing him.

Many children’s rights advocates argue that science has proven that a minor’s brain is less developed than that of an adult. As a result, they say, juveniles are more impulsive and less likely to understand the consequences of their actions. Noting that the Supreme Court has already ruled the death penalty unconstitutional for juveniles, they say that denying them the possibility of parole is also unconstitutional—even for the crime of murder. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that giving a mandatory sentence of life without parole to a juvenile essentially makes “a 14-year-old a throwaway person.”

But others, including the families of victims, have argued that regardless of their age, those charged with murder should serve life sentences, and that teenagers need to know that if they commit murder, they’ll get the worst punishment allowable under the law.

So this week’s “YouSpeak” asks: “Is it fair to sentence juveniles to life without parole?”

YouSpeak” typically appears each Monday.

If you have a suggestion for a question we should ask, post it in the comments section below.

Alex Stout (COM’13) and Kara Siebein (COM’12) assisted with this video.

Joe Chan

Joe Chan can be reached at joechan@bu.edu.

One Comment on YouSpeak: Justice for Juveniles

  • Pat on 04.02.2012 at 11:21 am

    I think that teenagers are impulsive and don’t think through to the consequences of an action. But, by the age of 14, I do believe that most 14 year old teens KNOW without too much thought that murder is wrong and that jail is definitely the consequence. I am thinking that a teen that would murder a neighbor may be headed down a long and dark path to other crimes. Should we just release them as an adult to commit the next crime then hopefully get a conviction to put them away for the punishment allowable by law?

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