Supreme Court to review cases of juveniles sentenced to life in prison

The Miami HeraldNovember 9, 2009 

Death is different.

With those words, a deeply divided U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 declared that the execution of adolescents was cruel and unusual punishment, and, hence, a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling halted capital punishment for juveniles in 25 states.

On Monday, the lawyers for two Florida men who, as juveniles, were sentenced to life without parole for non-homicides will ask the nation's highest court to declare the practice of incarcerating juveniles for the rest of their lives cruel and unusual, as well.

Life, the lawyers say, is different, too.

The Supreme Court will hold oral arguments on the two cases:. The case of Terrance Jamar Graham, convicted of armed robbery in Duval County, will be heard first at 10 a.m.; the appeal of Joe Sullivan, a convicted rapist from Pensacola, will be heard an hour later.

"What's at stake is that we have children who will die in prison because they have no right to parole, and there is no other option," said Paolo Annino, a Florida State University law professor who has been researching juvenile lifers for more than a decade. "What's at stake is life and death."

But for prosecutors, and some judges, the penultimate penalty of lifelong imprisonment is an important part of the nation's criminal justice tool box -- even for kids.

"Sentencing a juvenile to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is a weighty matter. Prosecutors do not seek such punishment lightly, nor do courts impose it without careful consideration," the National District Attorneys Association wrote in a "friend of the court" brief.

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