Statement of Carolyn B. Lamm, President, _ Re: Ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States in Graham V. Florida, Involving Sentences of Juveniles to Life in Prison Without Possibility of Parole in Non-Homicide Cases

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 17, 2010–The Supreme Court’s adoption today of a clear line ruling abolishing sentences of life in prison without possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes recognizes evolving standards of decency, acknowledges the impossibility of knowing whether individual juveniles have the potential to reform, and expands our nation’s options for dealing with juveniles convicted of serious crime.  The ABA urged this outcome because the ABA regarded it as constitutionally mandated, based on growing scientific understanding of brain development as a child matures into adulthood, and the ever more widespread view across our nation that such sentencing policy is cruel and unusual punishment that is not supported by any legitimate sentencing goal.  As the court noted, life without parole for a juvenile is disproportionate to the same sentence for a person in their 70s, it ignores the lesser culpability of juveniles compared to adults, it assumes at the outset of sentencing that a juvenile will remain a risk to society for the rest of his or her life and it forswears the goal of rehabilitation.  As the Court noted, its ruling reflects both a national consensus and international standards.

The Court’s ruling guarantees correctional authorities and the courts the opportunity to work to influence juvenile offenders through the prospect of potential parole toward reform and eventual contribution to society.  At the same time, it retains the potential for keeping those who remain incorrigibly dangerous incarcerated where they can do no further harm.   By recognizing both of these interests, the court’s ruling offers these juveniles realistic hope of eventual release if they reform while continuing to protect us from those who do not reform.

However, today’s opinion does not address life without possibility of parole sentences for children convicted of homicide.  ABA policy urges that legislators in states that still provide for such sentences on their books will consider this ruling along with recent legislation in states like Texas to abolish this sentence for all juvenile crimes.

With nearly 400,000 members, the _ is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.  As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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(Media contact:  Nancy Cowger Slonim, 312-988-6132, slonimn@staff.abanet.org)