Juvenile Lifelong Prison Terms Still Occur Despite Court's Verdicts

January 20, 2014
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Shimeek Gridine, a 14-year-old, was sentenced to 70 years in prison for attempted murder.  Is this equivalent to a lifetime sentence?

Shimeek Gridine, a 14-year-old, was sentenced to 70 years in prison for attempted murder. Is this equivalent to a lifetime sentence?

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that juveniles could not be sentenced to lifetime imprisonment for crimes other than murder.  Two years later, they again addressed sentencing guidelines for criminals younger than 18 years old, declaring in Miller v Alabama that automatic life terms for juveniles convicted of murder were unconstitutional.  Individual attention to each case was needed by the judge and jury before lifetime sentences were rendered.  In 2012, TeenJury posted on this very subject, including how juvenile life sentences violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  Now, in yesterday’s New York Times, Erik Eckholm reports that many states are clearly neglecting the spirit of these two landmark Supreme Court cases.  Cara H. Drinan, associate Professor of Law at Catholic University of America commented, “States are going through the motions of compliance,”  however juvenile lifetime sentences are still being issued.  Lawsuits are now pending in many states, including Florida, to force more strict limits.  In one notable case, Shimeek Gridine was 14, when he and his 12-year-old friend attempted to rob a man in 2009.  While their scheme failed, Shimeek fired a shotgun injuring the man, but not seriously.  Shimeek was prosecuted as an adult and, in fact pleaded guilty, hoping to obtain leniency.  The judge, however, sentenced him to 70 years in prison without parole.  Although technically not a “lifetime” sentence, it is likely to be just that, as Florida law would prevent his release before he turns 77.  A lawsuit claims that such a sentence is indeed a “lifetime sentence”, and it is therefore unconstitutional.  Debate also exists as to whether the Court’s verdicts in 2010 and 2012 require states to change terms for those previously convicted.  As for Shimeek, the Times reports that he is seeking his high school equivalency diploma in prison while he awaits his appeal.

What do you think?

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