Opinion

Commentary: Supreme Court makes right call on juvenile offenders

Justice John Paul Stevens concisely summed up the reasoning behind the U.S. Supreme Court's 6-3 decision banning life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders convicted of nonhomicide violent crimes:

"Society changes. Knowledge accumulates. We learn, sometimes from our mistakes. Punishments that did not seem cruel and unusual at one time, may, in the light of reason and experience, be found cruel and unusual at a later time," he wrote, concurring with the majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Thanks to this humane, well-reasoned ruling, 129 U.S. juveniles sentenced to life without parole will get a chance to redeem themselves. Seventy-seven of them are in Florida, which has the highest number of such cases. The ruling centers on one of them in the case Graham v. Florida.

Jacksonville resident Terrance Graham, at 17, was on probation for a restaurant robbery, during which another man beat the manager, when he committed a home invasion. He was sentenced to life without parole for violating probation. Graham was no angel, but he surely didn't deserve a life sentence.

Graham and 76 other offenders can now appeal their sentences, with hopes of eventual release, instead of facing death in prison. They will have to show judges that they are rehabilitated and no longer a public menace.

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