Meaningless Opportunities: Graham v. Florida’s 'Meaningful Opportunity for Release' for Juvenile Offenders and the Reality of De Facto LWOP Sentences
47 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2012 Last revised: 20 Aug 2012
Date Written: March 15, 2012
In 2010 the United States Supreme Court decided Graham v. Florida, which held that LWOP sentences for juvenile, non-homicide offenders were unconstitutional. This Comment argues that de facto LWOP sentences, lengthy term of years sentences that exceed a juvenile's natural life expectancy and effectively guarantee the offender will die in prison, are also unconstitutional for juvenile non-homicide offenders.
Part II provides a brief overview of the Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and how lower courts have responded to Graham. Part III explains why de facto LWOP sentences for juveniles who commit non-homicide crimes will fail the Supreme Court’s traditional Eighth Amendment tests and argues for a categorical ban against these sentences. Part IV discusses the practical implications of this Comment and whether juvenile offenders will see any meaningful change if courts adopt a categorical ban. Part V concludes that courts should embrace the spirit of Graham’s holding and provide a meaningful opportunity for juvenile offenders to experience life outside of prison before they die.
Keywords: Eighth Amendment, Graham v. Florida, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Cruel and Unusual Punishment, Juvenile Justice, Sentencing, Punishment, LWOP, Juvenile, Prison, de facto LWOP, national consensus, Meaningful Opportunity for Release, youth sentencing, life imprisonment without parole, Miller v. Alabama
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