Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Best US Supreme Court Decision of 2012

In my view, the best U.S. Supreme Court decision of 2012 would probably be Miller v. Alabama.  This decision scored a big one for human rights of juveniles. There will be no more mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders.  This was a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court back in June of 2012.  The majority opinion was penned by former Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan.  Of course, international human rights law was not the basis for the decision, but rather the US Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  

I have previously blogged about the issue of locking up our children and throwing away the key - see here and here.
A divided US Supreme Court struck down mandatory life-without-parole sentences Monday for juveniles convicted of murder, ruling the widespread practice violated the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. 
The ruling will nullify Massachusetts law, legal specialists said, and throw into question the sentences of 61 prisoners who over the past four decades were ordered to spend the rest of their lives in jail. Nationally, about 2,500 prisoners are serving life sentences without parole for murders they committed before turning 18. 
In a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled that juvenile offenders younger than 18 have “diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform” and that judges should be able to consider the “mitigating qualities of youth” in sentencing, even when juveniles commit heinous crimes.
“Such mandatory penalties, by their nature, preclude a sentencer from taking account of an offender’s age and the wealth of characteristics and circumstances attendant to it,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the majority opinion. “Under these schemes, every juvenile will receive the same sentence as every other — the 17-year-old and the 14-year-old, the shooter and the accomplice, the child from a stable household and the child from a chaotic and abusive one.”
It so far appears that Massachusetts has not moved quickly during the past half year since that SCOTUS decision to make the necessary corrections.   Let's hope our state will finally do so soon in 2013, and we'll thus complete one small but important step in furtherance of human rights rights here in our state.  

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.

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