Editor’s Note: Our Supreme Court Watch arti­cles have thus far been writ­ten by the staff of Log­a­rchism. Today’s arti­cle, though, is a con­tri­bu­tion from Max aka Bird­pi­lot. As always, we wel­come your contributions.

Evan Miller

Kun­trell Jackson

Today, the Supreme Court hears argu­ments in the cases of Miller v. Alabama and Jack­son v. Hobbs. The cases hinge on the basis of whether juve­niles con­victed of heinous crimes can be sen­tenced to life with­out parole. The Court has pre­vi­ously held in Gra­ham v. Florida that juve­niles can­not be sen­tenced to life with­out parole in cases involv­ing non–homi­cide crimes. It has also pre­vi­ously held, in Roper v. Sim­mons that those com­mit­ting cap­i­tal offenses while under the age of 18 can­not be sen­tenced to death for those crimes. Both cases were decided on a 5–4 vote, with Jus­tice Kennedy being the decid­ing fac­tor. The deci­sion of the Court in the Miller and Jack­son cases should come by the end of the term in June.

The basic rea­son­ing in Gra­ham and Roper was that juve­niles suf­fi­ciently lack matu­rity in rea­son­ing and in their moral sense to ren­der such sen­tences “cruel and unusual”, and thus a vio­la­tion of the Eighth Amend­ment. Attor­neys for the Appel­lants, through a con­cate­na­tion of these deci­sions, are hop­ing to con­vince the Court to apply the same rea­son­ing and con­firm that youth­ful offend­ers, beneath a cer­tain age, have not devel­oped the judge­ment to war­rant life-​​without-​​parole sen­tences, even in mur­der cases.

Evan Miller, along with his accom­plice Colby Smith, broke into a mobile home belong­ing to 52-​​year-​​old Cole Can­non in July of 2003. They stole base­ball cards and $350 in cash from Can­non before beat­ing him uncon­scious with a base­ball bat. They then set the mobile home on fire and left Can­non to die in the fire.

Kun­trell Jack­son, along with two accom­plices, attempted to rob a video store. One of the accom­plices, Der­rick Shields, had a sawed-​​off shot­gun, which he used to kill the video clerk when told that there was no money in the till.

Miller and Jack­son were both 14 when the crimes occurred. In nei­ther case are the attor­neys ask­ing that the con­vic­tions be set aside, only that the usual terms for parole be con­sid­ered, exclud­ing the “without-​​parole” sentence.

Cur­rently, only 18 states allow for life-​​without-​​parole sen­tences for youth­ful defen­dants. In ten of those states, only one or two peo­ple have received the sen­tence. A total of only 73 peo­ple are serv­ing life sen­tences with­out parole for crimes com­mit­ted as minors. In the past two decades, 3,632 youths were con­victed of homi­cides com­mit­ted while age 14 or under.

A few ques­tions for all of you, then:

  • Should peo­ple who com­mit mur­der at the age of 14 be per­mit­ted to receive life sen­tences with­out parole?
  • If not, what should be the max­i­mum per­mit­ted sentence?
  • What is the youngest age at which such a sen­tence should be per­mit­ted, and why that age?
  • How do you think the Supreme Court will decide?