Juvenile Life Without Parole in Law and Practice: The End of Superpredator Era Sentencing
71 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2015
Date Written: September 22, 2015
This article examines the rapid changes underway in sentencing juveniles to life without parole (JLWOP). It examines both the rapid changes in law and in the actual sentencing practices in the counties and states that continue to sentence persons to die in prison for crimes they commit before reaching age eighteen. In Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), the United States Supreme Court held that mandatory sentences for such offenses violate the Eighth Amendment. In reaching that conclusion, the Court explicitly held open the question of whether any such sentence is constitutional. This article addresses when, where, and on whom JLWOP sentences are being imposed, questions relevant to its constitutionality.
Examining a comprehensive data set of all persons currently serving JLWOP sentences, we find that the vast majority of JLWOP sentences are the product of sentencing policies premised on the myth of the superpredator, are isolated in a handful of counties and states, and that the states with those polices are rapidly abandoning them. We also find that black offenders are twice as likely as their similarly situated white counterparts to receive JLWOP sentences.
Keywords: juvenile life without parole, eighth amendment
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