Life Sentences Considered Cruel & Unusual: Graham v. Florida
The United States Supreme Court emphasizes that when determining if a sentence is unconstitutionally excessive, the Constitution does not require strict proportionality between crime and sentence, but rather forbids extreme sentences that are grossly disproportionate to the crime committed. Florida criminal defense lawyers agree that in doing this that the court must first compare the gravity of the offense and the severity of the sentence. In the rare case where there is evidence of gross disproportionality, the court should then compare the defendant’s sentence with the sentences received by other offenders in the same jurisdiction and with the sentences imposed for the same crime in other jurisdictions. If a comparative analysis validates the initial determination that the sentence is grossly disproportionate, the sentence is unconstitutional for violating the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
In a recent landmark case, Grahm v. Florida the Supreme Court reviewed a case and in doing so attempted to compare the defendant’s sentence with the sentences received by similarly situated offenders in other jurisdictions, the court determined that six jurisdictions do not allow life sentences without parole for any juvenile offenders. Seven jurisdictions permit life without parole for juvenile offenders, but only for homicide crimes. Thirty-seven states, the District of Columbia, and the Federal Government permit sentences of life without parole for juvenile non-homicide offenders, however, only in some limited circumstances. In reliance upon this data, Florida argued that there was no national consensus against the sentencing practice in question.
An examination of actual sentencing practices in those jurisdictions that permit life without parole for juvenile non-homicide offenders, however, discloses a consensus against the sentence imposed in by Defendant. Florida criminal defense attorneys argue were pleased that the Supreme Court’s opinion noted that there are only 129 juvenile offenders serving life without parole sentences for non-homicide crimes and that 77 of those offenders are serving sentences imposed in Florida. The remaining 52 are imprisoned in ten other States and in the federal system. It appears that only 12 jurisdictions nationwide in- fact impose life without parole sentences on juvenile non-homicide offenders. Twenty-six other states and the District of Columbia do not impose them despite statutory authorization. Additional support for United States Supreme Court’s ruling was that the United States is the only county in the world that imposes this type of sentence. International policies are not dispositive as to the meaning of the Eighth Amendment, the Court has looked abroad to support its independent conclusion that a particular punishment is cruel and unusual.
The United States Supreme Court noted it is improper to impose life without the possibility of parole sentences to juveniles adjudicated of non-homicide offenses because the transgressions of juvenile offenders are not as morally reprehensible as that of an adult. Research supports the notion that juvenile offenders are more capable of rehabilitation than are adult offenders. Actions of juvenile offenders are less likely to be evidence of irretrievably depraved moral character than are actions of adult offenders. Research proves that the brain continues to mature through late adolescence and this includes the brain mechanisms associated with behavior control. Thus, juvenile offenders are more likely to be rehabilitated.
Life without the possibility of parole is the second severest form of punishment, next to capital punishment. The Court found that serious non-homicide crimes may be devastating in their harm but in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public, they cannot be compared to murder in their severity and irrevocability.
Contact Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys at The William Moore Law Firm. We can help answer any questions you may have on sentencing in Broward County. Know your rights, do not wait, contact us at William Moore Criminal Defense Fort Lauderdale.