Any day now the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether judges can sentence juveniles convicted of serious crimes that don't result in a death to life without parole. The decision involves two cases in Florida, which incarcerates the most juveniles sentenced to life without parole — 76 out of 109 in the United States.
Joe Sullivan is one of only two men in the United States to receive a life sentence at age 13 after being convicted of brutally beating and raping an elderly woman in Escambia County. Terrance Graham got life without parole for crimes committed when he was 16 and 17 -- for armed burglary with assault or battery and attempted armed robbery in Duval County.
Their lawyers argue that life without parole for juveniles who commit nonhomicide crimes is cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional.
Science backs up their legal argument. Recent studies track that adolescents' brains are not fully developed, meaning they are less clear on right and wrong and understanding that every act has consequences. The studies also show that most youthful offenders respond better to intervention programs that address problems that lead to law breaking than to incarceration.
Juvenile-justice advocates offer the same arguments in seeking the repeal of Florida's direct-file law, which allows prosecutors sole discretion to decide if children as young as 14 should be tried in adult court. That used to be a decision made by judges, and it should still be.
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