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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/16/12

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

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Cruel and Unusual Punishment - by Stephen Lendman

America is the only country sentencing juveniles to life without parole.

The Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibits "cruel and unusual punishment." The legal dictionary defines it as:

"any cruel and degrading punishment not known to the Common Law, or any fine, penalty, confinement, or treatment that is so disproportionate to the offense as to shock the moral sense of the community."

Sentencing minors to life without parole qualifies. The ACLU says American children as young as 13 "are sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison without any opportunity for release." In fact, some as young as 11 are affected.

Around 2,570 are sentenced to juvenile life without parole (JLWOP). America treats them like adults regardless of age or circumstances.

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in Roper V. Simmons that sentencing juveniles to death was cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

In 2010, the ACLU and its Michigan affiliate sued (in Hill v. Synder) on behalf of nine Michigan inmates sentenced to life without parole while minors. They argued that doing so constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. It also violates international law prohibiting JLWOP. On July 15, 2011, the judge allowed the case to proceed.

On May 17, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that juvenile offenders can't be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide offenses committed before age 18. Although the Court held states needn't guarantee eventual release, they must provide a realistic chance. 

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