Should a fourteen-year-old incarcerated for murder be allowed parole, or is sentencing him or her to life in prison cruel and unusual punishment? These are the questions at stake in the cases of "Jackson v. Hobbs" and "Miller v. Alabama," which the Supreme Court hears today.
In both cases the petitioners came from abusive backgrounds with tragic results. A jury convicted Evan Miller of murdering Cole Cannon by beating Cannon with a baseball bat and then setting fire to Cannon’s trailer home. Kuntrell Jackson played lookout for a video store robbery in which a clerk was shot and killed; the jury gave him life without parole.
In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in "Graham v. Florida" that juveniles could not be sentenced to life in prison without parole for non-homicidal offenses because of their developmental status; the Equal Justice Initiative, which represents Jackson and Miller, hopes to argue that the same ruling should apply in cases where the crime is more severe.
Is fourteen too young to be put away for life? What is a suitable consequence for a teenage killer when society doesn’t trust someone of that age to drive, work, or watch an R-rated movie?
Emily Bazelon, senior editor at Slate, Truman Capote Fellow at Yale Law School
Daniel Horowitz, white collar criminal defense attorney; his wife, Pamela Vitale, was murdered by their 16-year-old neighbor in 2005
Elizabeth Calvin, Senior Advocate for the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch