A judge must consider youth and the nature of the crime when they sentence juveniles to prison, the United States Supreme Court ruled yesterday in Miller v. Alabama. The case involved two young juveniles who were sentenced to life in prison without parole in their respective states, Arkansas and Alabama. Each of the men were 14 when they took part in unrelated homicides. Both states imposes life in prison without parole as a mandatory sentence, which the Court said violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The decision will not necessarily free either of the men, Kuntrell Jackson of Arkansas and Evan Miller of Alabama. Nor does it prevent judges in the future from imposing life without parole on juveniles. However, it does require judges to at least consider the age of the offender, any mitigating circumstances, as well as the nature of the crimes.
This is a small, but positive step in the realm of criminal justice. Mandatory sentencing schemes are bad for society and bad for the accused. Judges should always be able to consider the circumstances of a crime before imposing sentences. Mandatory sentences are more about revenge than about crime prevention or reform. Not allowing a judge to consider circumstances in not only unjust, it’s silly.