Mark your calendars for Monday, Nov. 9. That is the day the U.S. Supreme Court has set aside to hear oral arguments in the two cases that could affect any states’ ability to sentence a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).
To review: Both cases pertain to juveniles who received LWOP in Florida. Sullivan v. Florida involves Joe Sullivan, now 33, who was 13 years old when a judge sentenced him to life in prison after finding he was involved in the rape of an elderly woman in her home in West Pensacola, Fla. Graham v. Florida involves Terrance Graham, who at age 17 received the same sentence after a judge found that he violated his parole from an earlier armed robbery by robbing a homeowner at gunpoint in December 2004.
In Graham’s case, the court will consider whether juvenile LWOP warrants cruel and unusual punishment for a juvenile of any age who is convicted of a non-homicide.
Sullivan poses more specific questions about juveniles who are age 13 (and presumably, younger). Does LWOP for a 13-year-old constitute cruel and unusual punishment, considering that (and here we quote the court’s own words) “the freakishly rare imposition of such a sentence reflects a national consensus on the reduced criminal culpability of children?”
You can read more on the cases and their implications in this piece we posted in May. Since that time, Texas, not usually known for getting out ahead of the curve on lenience, banned LWOP over the summer and California still has a LWOP ban bill in the hopper.