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How young is too young for a lifetime in prison?

by AirTalk®

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The U.S. Supreme Court has taken up the cases of two minors who committed serious crimes. On Monday, the court will consider whether sentencing young criminals to life in prison without parole violates the 8th amendment. Christopher Chan/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

In 2003, 14-year-old Evan James Miller and a friend were drinking forties with a much older neighbor at their trailer park in rural Alabama when a fight broke out. Miller was later convicted of beating the neighbor until he was immobile and setting his trailer on fire to cover up the beating. The neighbor eventually died of smoke inhalation.

A few years earlier, in 1999, 14-year-old Kuntrell Jackson agreed to rob a video store with a couple of older friends. The robbery went south and one of the other boys shot the clerk. Jackson was given life in prison without the possibility of parole for his part in the crime.

On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the cases of these two young boys whose lawyers say that because of their young ages, their sentences amount to cruel and unusual punishment and therefore violates the 8th amendment.

This court has given young criminals special consideration in the past. In 2005 they nixed the death penalty for minors who commit murder, and in 2010 they refused life in prison without parole for minors who are convicted of serious but non-homicidal crimes. Lawyers in the two cases will rely heavily on those rulings, saying they show precedent for leniency for younger defendants.

We will also speak with David Savage of the Los Angeles Times about today's oral arguments in the case about police use of GPS technology to track criminal suspects without a warrant.


Is there a trend moving toward greater leniency for sentencing minors? Does a life without parole sentence for teenagers amount to cruel and unusual punishment? Some experts say the brain development of young convicts needs to be taken into account in sentencing. Does the science show that young men such as Miller and Jackson can and will change?


David Savage, covers the Supreme Court for the Los Angeles Times

Barry Krisberg, research and policy director of the Earl Warren Institute at University of California Berkeley Law School; lecturer in residence at UC Berkeley Law School

John Eastman, professor at Chapman University School of Law; founding director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence

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