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Justice Roberts Signals No Ban on Life in Prison for Juveniles

Chief Justice John Roberts signaled today at oral arguments in the Supreme Court in two cases involving the constitutionality of life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes, that he's not inclined to find them unconstitutional. Neither are Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito.

More receptive were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens. (Update: transcripts of oral arguments here and here.)

Roberts suggested allowing a case by case review for proportionality rather than a constitutional ban.

Background on the cases is here. A more positive analysis of today's arguments at the LA Times. CBS legal analyst Andrew Cohen at Vanity Fair makes a good point about a related issue:

The same rationale behind the stupendous rise in our prison population retribution over rehabilitation has given rise to the practical demise of consistently meaningful parole review.

My view: Parole exists for good reason. It should not be used to convert life with parole into life without parole sentences.

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    well, (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 08:35:26 PM EST
    Chief Justice John Roberts signaled today at oral arguments in the Supreme Court in two cases involving the constitutionality of life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes, that he's not inclined to find them unconstitutional. Neither are Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito.

    color me blindsided. i mean, who'd have guessed?

    i honestly don't think there's any outrage, committed by our government, that these three wouldn't approve of.

    Well (none / 0) (#2)
    by Watermark on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 11:06:23 PM EST
    Roberts wasn't the vote we were counting on anyway.  Kennedy will problem be the swing vote, yet again, if my intuition is correct and the liberals vote to repeal it.  The Obama appointee also might be uncertain.

    What about states without parole?  Would the court just give them the option of instituting parole or require mandatory release?

    This really comes down to one's views on (none / 0) (#3)
    by BobTinKY on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 08:03:44 AM EST
    punishment.

    Are we seeking retribution/revenge or protecting public safety and deterring future crime?

    While locking up juvenile offenders protects the public, does it continue to do so after the juvenile has matured and may no longer pose a threat to society?  I seriously doubt the fact that juveniles are locked up for life deters other juveniles from committing crimes in the way locking up adults for life factors into most adult thinking.  I just do not see much evidence that juveniles appreciate the future beyond the next opportunity for instant gratification.

    Of course if revenge is what you seek, then lock' em up.  But why not waterboard them to?

    I view punishment as a means to protect society and deter crime.  Revenge does not provide me with much in the way of satisfaction.  I suspect Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito view the purpose of punishment quite differently.


    Minor quibble (none / 0) (#4)
    by nyjets on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 09:55:13 AM EST
    I am not saying you are incorrect with your observations, I just want to add something.
    I also think it depends on the notion of second chances. Some people believe that everybody deserves a second chance regardless of what he or she did. Other believe, and this is what I believe, that some actions causes an individual to forfeit any possibility of a second chance.
    In other words, the crimes of some people are so evil, regardless of there age, means that the person should never get a second chance.
    In this particular case, I would have to agree that LWOP should not apply. That being said, for some people, and that includes teenagers, LWOP should apply.

    Parent
    "regardless of age" (none / 0) (#5)
    by BobTinKY on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 10:09:59 AM EST
    you just lose me there.  Age must be considered.   Whatever the crime, a perp who is 12 yo is different than a 18, 21, 42 yo.

    Keep in mind that the case at the Supreme Court does not involve murder.

    It is the easiest thing in the world for a politican to appeal to the quite human desire for revenge.  And they do it all the time throwing out common sense and legal process whenever it suits.  Resisting the desire for revenge and instead designing a criminal justice system in a way that protects society and deters crime is one difference between a civil society and barbarism.  

    Parent

    FOr this case (none / 0) (#6)
    by nyjets on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 10:22:12 AM EST
    Concerning the supreme court case I did say that LWOP should probable not apply. While I can think of some non murder cases which should carry a LWOP sentence, the current supreme court case is most likely not one of them.
    And I am sorry, for some crimes, usually involving murder, LWOP should be automatic regardless of age. That IMO is justice not revenge. As I posted before, being given a second chance should not be automatic.


    Parent
    There are tough cases (none / 0) (#7)
    by BobTinKY on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 10:51:47 AM EST
    I think the toughest one I know of was in RI.  I think this kid killed a woman and her daughter and possibley one  other, if I remember right, in a particularly heinous, ritualistic way.  I think he was only 13 or something.

    He did not get life but since reaching adutlhood I believe he remains incarcerated/institutionalized undergoing periodic exams to determine his sanity.  He may have also committed further offenses while in prison which is also evidence he still poses a threat to society.  

    Assessing the now adult child criminal's continued threat level as evidenced by further crimes and psycho-analysis to me is critical.  I do not see these sentences deterring other minors for the reasons I stated, and I reject revenge as a reason for punishment.   The now adult perp is either a continuing threat to society or not.  LWOP does not allow for that assessment.  

    For someone who committed the exact same crime as an adult I have no problem with LWOP.   Adults can be presumed to have thought through the consequences of their actions.

    Parent

    An adult who commits the same crime (none / 0) (#8)
    by BobTinKY on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 12:36:58 PM EST
    LWOP not revenge (none / 0) (#9)
    by diogenes on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 12:43:11 PM EST
    One function of prison is containment.  If you believe in LWOP then you believe that some people are likely enough to commit crimes against innocents that you want to contain them outside of society.
    What is wrong with Roberts' call for a case by case review of proportionality?  It is more than you have now in Florida.

    I don't think .. (none / 0) (#10)
    by nyrias on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 02:29:23 PM EST
    it is a good idea to take AWAY the option of LWOP.

    It is reasonable to argue whether it is a good or bad thing for a particular case. It is also reasonable to assume that it will be used rarely.

    However, while a 13 yr old, ON AVERAGE, is different from a 20 yr old, it is not reasonable to assume that you won't need this for a 13 yr old under ALL circumstances.