Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses may no longer be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, as this sentence goes against the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling makes states provide a juvenile with “some realistic opportunity to obtain release” if a life sentence is imposed. Life without parole sentences for juveniles are very rare with the court finding only 129 such convictions.
Because of its rarity, one is left to wonder if it is an issue that needed much consideration. One justice recommended a case-by-case approach, which it appears most states have already been practicing. The ruling was also vague in that it failed to define the term “realistic”. Instead, the ruling would have been more profound had it imposed a limitation on the number of years.
With this ruling also brings to the forefront the “age debate”. Is a 17 year old who brutally rapes a young woman any more ready to enter society again than an 18 year old who commits a comparable crime? Under the new ruling, the 17 year old would not be able to receive a life without parole sentence, making him less punishable and less accountable for his actions than someone just a year older. The recent ruling is yet another example of America’s complicated legal system. Sometimes a ruling creates more questions than answers.