Constitutional Line Drawing at the Intersection of Childhood and Crime
28 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2013 Last revised: 15 Oct 2014
Date Written: February 11, 2013
Three cases have arisen in the first seven years of the Roberts Court in which concepts of childhood have played a key role. First came Graham v. Florida, a 2010 case in which the Court held that the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment's Clause prohibited sentencing of juveniles to life without parole for non-homicide offenses. Next was J.D.B. v. North Carolina, a 2011 case in which the Court held that a juvenile's age is a relevant consideration when determining whether a reasonable person would believe he was in custody for Miranda purposes. Finally, the Court decided Miller v. Alabama, a 2012 case in which the Court held that the mandatory imposition of life without parole in cases where juveniles were convicted of homicide was cruel and unusual punishment because it precluded consideration of age and its attendant consequences.
Though at first glance these three cases appear consistent -- they each result in some degree of enhanced constitutional protection for juveniles -- a closer look reveals significant jurisprudential tension because the opinions are riddled with contradictions. This Article explores those tensions and the need to resolve them, focusing in particular on two major line-drawing problems that have emerged in the juvenile cases. The first is inherent to but largely ignored in the cases: whether and where to draw the line between childhood and adulthood. The second line is judicially manufactured: the line between homicide and non-homicide offenses. The Article describes and critiques the Court's line drawing and offers proposed solutions to remedy flaws in the Court's reasoning.
Keywords: juvenile, life without parole, cruel and unusual punishment, Eighth Amendment
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