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Supreme Court Weighs Life Without Parole Sentences for Juveniles

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard a case about sentencing juveniles to life without parole.

The court has previously said that should be rare, and the question before the justices has to do with what courts must do before deciding to impose a life without parole sentence on a juvenile.

During arguments, Justice Samuel Alito suggested the high court has become too lenient.

“What would you say to any members of this court who are concerned that we have now gotten light years away from the original meaning of the Eighth Amendment and who are reluctant to go any further on this travel into space?” Alito asked at one point, referring to the amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual” punishment.

Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Neil Gorsuch also indicated they take issue with the court’s most recent decision on juvenile life sentences.

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The court in 2005 eliminated the death penalty for juveniles. Five years later, it barred life without parole sentences for juveniles, except in cases in which a juvenile has killed someone.

Then, in 2012, the justices in a 5-4 decision said juveniles convicted of murder can’t automatically be sentenced to life with no chance of parole.

A related decision four years later said those sentences should be reserved “for all but the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.”

The justices are now being asked whether a juvenile has to be found to be “permanently incorrigible,” incapable of being rehabilitated, before being sentenced to life without parole.

Do you think life without parole sentences for juveniles are constitutional?

But the court has changed significantly in recent years. More conservative justices have replaced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose votes were key to the 2012 decision.

The specific case before the justices involves Mississippi inmate Brett Jones, who was 15 and living with his grandparents when he fatally stabbed his grandfather.

The two had a fight in their home after Bertis Jones found his grandson’s girlfriend in his grandson’s bedroom.

Brett Jones, who was using a knife to make a sandwich before the fight, stabbed his grandfather first with that knife and then, when it broke, with a different knife.

He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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Jones, who is now 31, says he is not “permanently incorrigible” and should therefore be eligible for parole.

Mississippi says the Eighth Amendment doesn’t require that Jones be found permanently incorrigible to receive a life without parole sentence.


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